By Capt. Russell Varnado (82d Airborne)February 22, 2013
From fielding the newest equipment to establishing cutting edge tactics, techniques and procedures the 82nd Airborne Division's 18th Fires Brigade (Airborne) has always stayed a little ahead of the rest of the Army.
In July 2012, the brigade broke new ground by assigning the first female Field Artillery officers to cannon batteries. The move was part of a pilot program that preceded the announcement by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta which repealed the sanctions against women serving in male-only positions.
Col. Robert D. Morschauser, 18th Fires Bde. commander, said during his days as a battalion commander as U.S. Forces surged into Iraq, he saw women function in traditional male roles with valor and professionalism. These experiences shaped his willingness to initiate the program in the brigade.
"Women have proven over many years, not just in the brigade, but in the overall war on terrorism that they are just as effective as men are in combat roles," Morschauser said. "We have decided to leverage their exceptional talents."
It was decided that 1st Battalion, 321st Airborne Field Artillery Regiment would be the unit to accept the first female officers into its ranks. The unit commander, Lt. Col. Kareem P. Montague, was eager to accept the young lieutenants.
"[Women] make up about 12% of the officer corps and up until now we have automatically excluded them," said Montague. "When you increase the pool of people you consider for any organization you increase the quality of that organization."
Once the unit was identified, Morschauser had to find the right officer to fill the job. He did not have to look very far. The brigade's 3rd Battalion, 27th Field Artillery Regiment had a wealth of qualified female officers to choose from. The 'Steel Rain' battalion had been assigning female Field Artillery officers into platoon leader positions for several years.
1st Lts. Nargis Kabiri and Kate Lungmus were the two female officers chosen to fill leadership positions previously held only by their male counterparts. Many people feared that with the integration of women into traditionally male ranks that a plethora of problems would arise. Kabiri's unit commander says that has not been the case. According to Capt. Nicholas Furloni, commander, Bravo Battery, 1-321 AFAR, the response was quite the opposite.
"I told the unit when she got here that we gained a sister and that's how everyone looks at it," said Furloni. "She came to us with a great reputation; I was excited to get her, that's why she's my [Executive Officer]."
The officers' inception to their unit was done without fanfare. According to Lungmus, that is exactly how she wanted it.
"I just want to do my job; I don't want any extra attention" said Lungmus.
Lt. Col. Joe D. Bookard commands the brigade's 3rd Battalion, 321st Airborne Field Artillery Regiment. He says that after he received his first female lieutenant in October his male officers had to raise the level of their performance. Talks were held at the highest military levels discussing changes to physical fitness standards or adaptations to gender-neutral standards. Morschauser sees lowering the standards as a step in the wrong direction.
"If we lower the standards we will fail," said Morschauser. "The female officers I've talked to told me that don't want standards lowered, they want to do what the men do."
He went on to say that he feels that gender-neutral standards are a good thing as long as they are tied to specific military occupational specialties. He feels that adjusting the standard to meet the requirements of the job in a combat environment helps everyone.
While the changes to the brigade's officer corps have been an adjustment, one with just as many challenges lies ahead. In spring of this year the brigade is expected to receive the first female enlisted Field Artillerymen. Once again, the brigade and the Army will look to 3-27 FAR to blaze the trail. The battalion will integrate the Army's initial class of female 13P (High Mobility Artillery Rocket System fire direction specialist), 13M (rocket launcher crew member) and 13R (radar specialist) into their ranks.
Building an enlisted support channel for the young female Troopers will take time. In order to mitigate the lack of mentorship from fellow artillerymen, Lt. Col. Christopher Valeriano, 3-27 FAR commander, had to get creative.
"I brought in all my female [Troopers] and told them I expect them to reach out to these young ladies," Valeriano said. "It does not matter what company or battery you are in, we are all Steel Rain Soldiers."
The next step will be the integration of the first female Field Artillery officer into a brigade combat team to serve as an assistant-battalion fire support officer. As of now, female officers are not authorized to serve below the brigade level. The bde. sees the move as an opportunity to bring further credibility to the abilities of these young officers.
The Army has seen revolutionary changes throughout the past three years and those changes are far from complete. Fortunately, the 18th Fires Bde. has leaders who have weathered many changes over the years. One of these leaders is Command Sgt. Maj. Charles Masters, 3-27 FAR.
"The Army is an organization of change," said Masters. "Either you change with the Army or you move on."
When asked about his opinion of the integration of women into the Field Artillery, both officer and enlisted, he said "leadership, techniques and tactics have no gender."