FORT HOOD, Texas — Daunting challenges didn’t faze Sgt. Rebeca Pelaez. She had competed in marathons and half marathons before joining the Army.
But training to become a cannon crew member presented an obstacle unlike any other the Miami native had encountered.
As one of the few women in field artillery, she learned that passing her seven-week training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma required more rigorous discipline, not only in stamina, but in mental fortitude. As a 13B cannon crew member, she performs a critical role on the battlefield; providing critical, long-distance fire capability to infantry and armored units.
“A 24 [year-old] female that was into endurance now has to be into strength and conditioning,” Pelaez said. “And that change was the physicality of the job. It was just a hurdle. It wasn't necessarily a … gate holding me from success. [I]could overcome it.”
Pelaez, who ran on cross country and track teams at Southwest Miami Senior High School, spent more time building her core strength and lifting weights. To elevate her fitness levels today, Pelaez said that she partners with a member of her battery each week and holds herself to higher physical standards. She still keeps her routine of competing in endurance runs, including the Army Ten-Miler in Washington.
“The rounds are heavy and need to be transported with a sense of urgency,” said Pelaez, now 28. “We don’t stop firing because it’s too cold, too hot or too rainy. We are ‘all-weather’ when we are called upon to shoot.”
Now the first female howitzer section chief for Charlie Battery, 3rd Cavalry Regiment, Regimental Field Artillery Squadron, 1st Platoon, she supervises eight Soldiers while assuring the crew fires the correct rounds with corresponding charges.
“We want to be quick, accurate and lethal,” said Pelaez, currently preparing for her first deployment next year. “But we also have to have each other’s back because the unique part of being a 13B is that one person only can’t fire the piece … a whole section is needed.”
In 2015, the Army opened nearly 20,000 field artillery jobs to women including cannon crew members and automated tactical data system specialists. That number has continued to grow in the years since. Pelaez said more females have joined her specialized career since she arrived at Fort Hood in 2019, and eight are currently in her battery.
Pelaez knows the responsibility she bears as the first female section crew chief in a career field where men still vastly outnumber women. She credits her peers and chain of command with helping her reach that pinnacle: 1st Lt. Aaron Morris, Sgt. 1st Class Zachary Carlisle and Staff Sgt. Ismael Garcia.
“It was very far and few between females that were part of it,” Pelaez said. “We hadn't had that influx yet that we're getting now. And now I'm seeing these new females come in, and they have [female] NCOs to come talk to.”
Fortunately, Pelaez had the benefit of remaining with the same battery at Fort Hood for four years. At the central Texas installation, one of the Army’s highest populated posts, she has embraced physical fitness as part of Fort Hood’s local culture. Morning fitness sessions close off traffic for several blocks, and metal and wood obstacles for exercises can be found throughout the installation.
“It's more challenging physically at your first duty station because you're in the field,” she said. “You're actively doing your job. You already have people that are physically at another level. So you're catching up. It's attainable.”
Pelaez’s example of changing careers in the Army encouraged another member of her family.
Pelaez’s older brother, Albert followed his sister into the Army but took a different path. Albert previously taught elementary school education after earning his PhD in education from Florida International University. Albert Pelaez, now a first lieutenant stationed at Hunter Army Air Field, Georgia, commissioned into the Army in 2020.
Rebeca served as an emergency medical technician and certified nurse’s assistant before enlisting in April 2019.
The Pelaezes understood the value of hard work from their immigrant parents. Rebeca and Albert grew up in the diverse Miami borough of Westchester. Their mother, Maria Monzon, hails from Santa Clara in central Cuba while her father, Ignacio Pelaez, emigrated from Granada, Spain, after the couple met in college. Her father worked long hours as a landscaper while her mother served as a teacher’s assistant at an elementary school.
When Rebeca Pelaez enlisted in the Army, she said that selfless mindset helped her transition to the military.
“You're no longer an individual,” Pelaez said. “It's all about the team. Because that's kind of how my mom raised me. And that's very much part of our culture.”
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