FORT SILL, Okla. -- Women Soldiers came to work May 14 with more opportunities than ever before.
A new policy opened up 14,325 additional positions or 3 percent more Army jobs, according to the Department of Defense and the Army Times respectively.
Three things happened that affected women in field artillery directly: The co-location provision was eliminated from a 1994 DoD policy, thus opening up High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) and Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) units to women at all levels; because of the elimination of co-location, three Military Occupation Specialties (MOS) opened up to females in HIMARS and MLRS units that had always been closed to them; and finally, nine brigade combat teams were opened up to females at the battalion level.
Improving opportunities for females motivated these changes as the DoD and the military services were directed by the fiscal 2011 National Defense Authorization Act to provide information on policies that restricted women in the military.The decision to change policy started in the fall of 2011 and specifics on what the changes would be were not worked out until early 2012.
Co-location was a policy in the 1994 DoD Direct Ground Combat Definition and Assignment Rule that dictated where females in certain units could be placed on the battlefield. HIMARS and MLRS units participate in indirect firing roles, which means they are technically not placed on the "front line" or direct combat missions.
But on the battlefield they can be placed, or "co-located," near units like an infantry company whose main purpose is to participate in direct combat roles and do not allow women. Even if the HIMARS and MLRS units were miles away, because they were situated next to units with roles that did not allow women, they were also unable to have women assigned to them.
1st Lt. Amanda Hassett, B Battery, 1st Battalion, 14th Field Artillery executive and fire direction officer, has worked on HIMARS since she left the Basic Officer Leader Course (BOLC). However, to be able to do her job she had to be assigned to a forward support company and then get attached to a HIMARS unit to get around the restrictions. But, her training was no different from any of her male classmates.
"When you go through the FA BOLC course, it's the same exact thing. I learned how to be a cannon platoon leader, cannon fire direction officer, cannon fire support officer. That's primarily what all my schooling was about. Then you go through a two-week training on MLRS and HIMARS, so all of my training was dedicated to working on a cannon unit ... but because I'm a female they won't let (me)."
This position changed when the country engaged in two wars, and the policy could not keep up with the needs of the military. After examining the service that females had contributed to their attached units in these roles and the restriction that had prevented them from doing so in the first place, the Army decided it was time to get rid of the policy altogether since its purpose had become a moot point.
Brig. Gen. Brian McKiernan, Field Artillery School commandant and chief of FA, said HIMARS and MLRS units are now completely open to female Soldiers.
"As of the 14th of May when the policy officially changed, those opportunities now exist to serve all the way down to the unit level, down to the platoon, down to the launcher level," said McKiernan. As for officers this, "allows them to serve all the way down to platoon leader positions and XO positions inside of firing batteries."
This immediately affects women like Hassett who are already in the Army, said Maj. Trina Rice, chief of Women in the Army Assignment Policy, at the Pentagon.
With co-location gone, six combat support military occupational specialties opened up to women for the first time including three for HIMARS and MLRS units. The MOSs are: 13M, MLRS Crewmember; 13P, MLRS Operations Fire Detection Specialist; and 13R, Field Artillery Fire Finder Radar Operator Specialist. These enlisted positions will open more than 1,900 jobs to female Soldiers.
"Effectively, we've opened up about 2,000 field artillery positions for both enlisted and officers," said McKiernan, "that will now provide a viable career path for an enlisted Soldier, an officer or even a warrant officer to serve all the way from initial entry as a Soldier or officer all the way through a career that would provide them an opportunity to hold leadership positions at every echelon."
Before this, enlisted female Soldiers were only able to be 13T, Field Artillery Surveyor/Meteorological Crewmembers in field artillery. Females working in radar or mechanics have been attached to artillery units from support brigades. Instead of only working one out of the 10 jobs for enlisted Soldiers in field artillery, they now can work in four.
1st Lt. Kimberly Kopack, B Battery, 1st Battalion, 30th Field Artillery Basic Officer Leader Course, common corps officer in charge, was commissioned as an officer in air defense artillery in 2009. She is branch detailed to field artillery and took the opportunity to experience cannons like her father, a Marine artilleryman.
"To be part of something like that I thought would be a real privilege especially as a female. When I commissioned we didn't have all these opportunities. Back when I commissioned, HIMARS wasn't even an option for us. My favorite quote is 'To break the glass ceilings, someone's got to bash their heads' and I thought, I may not get these opportunities but maybe I can take the headache and let future junior officers have that chance -- which I'm seeing. So it's pretty great."
The MOSs are supposed to officially open up for recruits Oct. 1, according to Human Resources Command and the Pentagon. Slots for new recruits opened this summer. One female, Cicely Verstein, has made the news as the first recruit to apply to become a 91M, Bradley Fighting Vehicle System Maintainer.
Human Resources Command must also update its computer systems to show females in these MOSs. Units will start seeing female Soldiers by next year after they complete Basic Combat Training.
The last major change that came was opening 37 battalions in nine brigade combat teams (BCT) to women. This is an exemption to the current Direct Ground Combat exclusion policy that prohibits women from being assigned to units below the brigade level whose main objective is to engage in combat.
The nine brigades selected offer a variety of units from light to heavy to airborne from across the country for specifically selected MOSs based on rank. Six enlisted specialties from supply to intelligence for sergeant through sergeant first class and 10 officer specialties including field artillery for second lieutenant through captain, were selected to participate. These brigades will be the only ones in the Army to give females the opportunity to serve at the battalion level in a BCT for the foreseeable future.
As this exemption goes into effect, from May through September, the brigades will conduct an assessment of how they are integrating females, and look at such things as unit cohesion or assignments, to determine how this new opportunity affects the Army.
"We are assessing different areas of how this integration is going," said Rice. "For instance you are looking at how well units are coming together, cohesion … not so much that we're evaluating individuals, we're just evaluating how this new opportunity is working because there may be things that we may find we could do better."
Until now, women in FA were only able to work in staff roles at the brigade headquarters' level. At battalion headquarters level, women will have the same opportunities like any colleague including promotion and assignments.
Some of the positions they could hold at the battalion level are fire support officer, S3 (plans, training and operations), assistant S3, executive officer and commander of a headquarters battery because it pertains to the battalion level.
They still would not be in units like Ranger battalions because a Soldier must be Ranger qualified and the course is currently closed to females. However, they can be battalion task force officers or battalion FSOs in infantry or armor because one does not have to be qualified in infantry or armor.
"[The exemption] will probably get to validating that females could serve at least at the battalion level for sure in some of those brigade combat team formations," said McKiernan.
McKiernan said this exemption would help validate that females can serve at the battalion level and open more important career opportunities and experiences.
"This definition of direct ground combat kind of narrows the opportunity there for females ... This potentially would give females the opportunity to serve as a task force fire support officer, and I think that would be important in terms of providing a very important developmental opportunity for a female officer in field artillery."
The assessment period is also looking at how to best open current restrictions on female positions in the Army in the future, said Rice. This assessment may give the Army and government officials the data they need to make the right choices at the right time.
"I think it's with anything. You can't just make hasty decisions. You have second, third order effects and some things can be [changed] faster because they require less to do. Other things require a lot more [time], again because of the way policy in and of itself is written," said Rice.
She believes that any change to improve the career opportunities of females in the military is a big deal.
"Every new step that provides a new opportunity is always a big step because it means people are paying attention," said Rice. "You're in an organization that continues to evolve, that continues to do what it needs to do to accomplish the mission."