By Spc. Mia KlavonAugust 27, 2012
FORT BRAGG, N.C. - There is no mistake that all soldiers, male or female, sacrifice a great deal in order to serve their country. Paratroopers in the 82nd Airborne Division especially are required to get down and dirty and devote long hours in field environments to go above standards.
U.S. Army soldiers are generally viewed as males who leave their families to make necessary sacrifices for their country. What about the women who serve? Society often asks, "Why would women want to serve? Why would they want to leave their children and travel into dangerous areas of the globe and fight?" Their hard work and dedication often goes unnoticed.
The leaders of 3rd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 82nd Airborne Division, hosted an observance of female paratroopers serving, Aug. 24, 2012. Guest speaker Command Sgt. Maj. Shannon Cromartie from 50th Signal Battalion, along with six female paratroopers of both lower and senior ranks, took their places on a panel to tell their stories and give advice to their fellow paratroopers.
Topics of overcoming gender stereotypes and the hardships of being a single mother were discussed. Panel members analyzed the positive treatment of women in the Army versus other military branches, as well as around the world.
Fortunately in the Army, women are more integrated than other branches. Battalion chemical officer 2nd Lt. Kelli Tapia for 3rd BSTB, a former enlisted sailor, spoke about the difference in expectations of women in both branches. She was pleased to experience a finer line that separates both genders.
"A female sailor is a female sailor in the Navy, you aren't expected to get filthy and not shower for two weeks like the Army," Tapia said. "But here, you do as the men do."
Pfc. Lidia Yakovleva a mechanic from 3rd BSTB, who was raised in Russia, spoke highly about this country and the Army. In her experience, this country takes great care of women.
"In Russia, women are expected to marry and that is it." Yakoleva said. She was surprised to find out that you can go to jail for domestic violence.
Spc. Diana Anderson, a combat medic from 3rd BSTB, was raised in Kenya and later spent time in Germany before coming to the United States. Like Yakovleva, Anderson spoke highly about her treatment in the United States. Almost in tears, she recalled experiencing dangerous amounts of sexism in Kenya.
Anderson remembered telling her mother that she never wanted to go through what her mother had. Germany was not much different. Racism was strong and Anderson had to leave in order to move to the United States and provide for her child.
Cromartie explained that single mothers who serve, work hard to give their children better lives while simultaneously protecting their country's freedom.
"I have more respect for mothers who serve. It is very different for a woman to leave her child than it is for a man." Cromartie said, "These women have to sacrifice everything, including their children while deployed."
Life was not always as integrated for female soldiers, explained 1st Sgt. Maggie Peppers, Company B, 3rd BSTB. She and Cromartie talked about their struggles in the past. Cromartie explained that females are last to be chosen when they come to a unit. Many males doubt their abilities or are afraid to combine both genders.
Cromartie advised young female paratroopers to always "Remember that you as women are going to have to prove yourself, to always be better than the male on your left and right."
"Females have to be able to run, ruck and jump. You must stay in weight and always do your best to stay up front," said Cromartie.
Anderson asked for the males to not look down upon the females. "I can do 70 pushups! Any challenge presented to me I will accomplish it!"
According to Peppers, it's all about building trust. "The males are weary at first, but with time you become family and the stereotypes are washed away," she said.
Both Peppers and Cromartie agreed that life as a female soldier has become much better. When Cromartie first joined 24 years ago, there weren't many options. Today, there are a lot more avenues female soldiers can take. "The fact that your command [3rd BSTB] is recognizing women in the Army speaks volumes," said Cromartie.