Women Join Ranks of Cavalry Scouts in Nebraska

SGT Danielle Martin tackles an obstacle during the 1-134th Cavalry Squadron’s spur ride during annual training in the Republic of Korea June 17, 2019. (Photo by SGT Anna Pongo)

LINCOLN, Neb. – Every Soldier in the Army National Guard has a story: the reasons why they joined the military, picked their particular military occupational specialty (MOS), or serve in their military Unit of choice.

For two Soldiers serving in the Nebraska Army National Guard’s Troop B, 1-134th Cavalry, their stories are notably different than those around them. That’s because Sergeant (SGT) Nicole Havlovic and SGT Danielle Martin are two of the very few women serving in the Nebraska Cavalry Squadron, and are two of only a few women in the nation who have successfully graduated from the Army’s toughest combat arms MOS school, earning themselves the title of Cavalry Scout.

SGT Havlovic originally joined the Nebraska Army National Guard as a 92W Water Treatment Specialist. However, after serving for six years, she decided to leave the Guard for a year because she wanted to do something different.

It was that desire for something new that drove her to join the Nebraska Army Guard Cavalry Squadron.

“I felt like it would be a perfect fit. I’m pretty outdoorsy and this – being out in the field – doesn’t bother me at all.”

SGT Danielle Martin’s route to becoming a Cavalry scout was not a direct one, either.

“I’ve always wanted to go into combat arms,” she says. “It was a year before joining the military that I knew combat arms was what I wanted to do. However, I was still junior-enlisted, so I really couldn’t do much about it.”

The last restrictions against women serving in combat roles were lifted in 2013. However, Army regulations specified that Units were first required to have two female Cavalry scouts in leadership positions before other female Soldiers would be allowed to join their ranks. This made integrating junior-ranking women into the Units all that much more difficult.

SGT Martin began her career in the Nebraska Army National Guard as a 92A Automated Logistical Specialist before joining a military police Unit. After rising to the rank of Sergeant, she finally saw a way to achieve her combat arms goal.

Both Sergeants attended Cavalry scout reclassification school – an Army school designed to train Soldiers from other MOS’ in the skills needed to become operational Cavalry scouts. SGT Martin attended the November reclassification course in Boise, Id. After completing the course, she reported to the Nebraska-based Troop B this past January.

SGT Martin says the reception she received from her new Unit made her realize they respected her newly-earned skills. She says it wasn’t about changing who anyone was, but rather, having mutual respect between Soldiers.

“They don’t treat me any differently just because I’m female. I’m one of the guys and I think it needs to be that way. I’m not coming in here to change them, I’m coming in here because I know I can physically and mentally handle it, and I want to do the job.”

SGT Havlovic attended the Cavalry Scout Transition Course in Smyrna, Tenn., and reported to Troop B in April 2019. She too says her fellow Soldiers don’t treat her differently than any other member of the Unit.

“I expect them to believe that they can trust me with the mission and what we have to do,” she says. “Everyone has been welcoming to me.”

With the two women completing their transition courses, Nebraska National Guard’s 1-134th Cavalry Squadron became the ninth Army National Guard Unit, fourth Cavalry Troop, and second Infantry Brigade Combat Team Cavalry Troop to be opened for junior enlisted female Cavalry scouts.

First Sergeant (1SG) Andrew Filips, Troop B’s senior enlisted Soldier, has spent 15 years in the Squadron. He says the change of policy wasn’t an issue.

“What it comes down to is that we’re a Combat Arms Unit and there’s only one standard. You either make the cut, or there are other Units for you to go to.”

First Sergeant (1SG) Christopher Marcello of Grand Island’s Troop A, 1-134th Cavalry Squadron, is a 22-year veteran of the Squadron. He has also been a member of the Grand Island Police Department for six years. He echoes 1SG Filips’ sentiments.

“I work with women every day as a police officer and that’s a tough job. Combat arms isn’t any different. You have to have the right fit. It doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman. You have to be the right kind of person to be a scout.”

The Nebraska Army National Guard’s 1-134th Cavalry Squadron is part of the larger 39th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, which is headquartered in Arkansas. The Brigade is responsible for providing training and readiness oversight of its subordinate Units. According to Command Sergeant Major (CSM) Gregory White, 39th IBCT senior enlisted leader, the Brigade finds the right Soldiers for the job by looking at those who want to do it, instead of looking at who can physically do it.

CSM White also says that women who hold a combat arms MOS are the best representatives to recruit other women into the field. He spoke with SGT Martin during a visit to Troop B’s recent annual training in the Republic of Korea. They both agreed the focus should be on reaching out to women who want the challenge of serving in a combat arms position, and once they do, give them the tools they need to become advocates.

“Having her [SGT Martin] talk to them is going to be so much better than a guy who has been in for 30 years,” he says. “A 50-year-old man talking to these young women will not reach them the same way.”

1SG Filips says the physical demands are not the only aspect of combat arms that new recruits need to consider. The relatively demanding training pace also makes Combat Arms Units different. Troop B regularly trains in the field and spends most drill weekends training throughout the night. That is often one of the more significant reasons why some Soldiers eventually choose to transfer into the squadron.

“If you want to come into the Guard and feel like this is what I want to do; (that) I want to … be awesome and be the baddest dudes and wear the cool hats and do all that, then yes go for it,” says 1SG Filips. “But if you are ‘I want to try this because it would be neat,’ there’s other places to be neat. Come here because this is what you always wanted to do in life. You have to want it.”

1SG Marcello seconds these comments, adding that Troop A is willing to let Soldiers – male or female – try being a Cavalry scout for their drill weekend.

“We’re more than happy to let people come in, try it out and if it doesn’t work for you, we get it,” he says. “It has nothing to do with gender or sex; it has to do with whether or not you can do the job.”

Both SGT Havlovic and SGT Martin say they realize they are now mentors and role models for those around them and encourage other Soldiers to give it a try.

“It’s definitely something I would sit down, explain to them, and educate them on,” says SGT Havlovic, who now works for the State recruiting office.

“It’s not for everybody, it really isn’t. I don’t believe that just because combat arms has been opened up to females means that all females belong here – but if you can do it, then do it.”

If you’ve got what it takes to stand alongside some of the strongest Soldiers, consider joining the Army National Guard. By becoming a Soldier in the Guard, you’ll be able to serve part-time in your home State, and receive top-notch training in the career field of your choice. Browse the job board for opportunities in more than 130 specialties, including ground forces, aviation, and engineering. Contact a recruiter to learn how you can serve today!

From an original article by SSG Herschel Talley, Nebraska National Guard, which appeared in the news section of NationalGuard.mil in September 2019.

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Warriors Conquer Grueling Test

Hawaii Scout, West Virginia Sergeant Earn Top Honors in Guard Best Warrior Competition

In the shadow of Utah’s Wasatch Mountains, 14 competitors from throughout the Guard battled it out in the 2015 Army National Guard Best Warrior Competition for the honor of being named Soldier of the Year and Noncommissioned Officer (NCO) of the Year.

Specialist Cruser Barnes of the Hawaii Guard takes a short breather during the ruck march event of the 2015 National Guard Best Warrior Competition at Camp Williams, UT. Barnes was named Guard Soldier of the Year. —Photo by SFC Jon Soucy

Specialist Cruser Barnes of the Hawaii Guard takes a short breather during the ruck march event of the 2015 National Guard Best Warrior Competition at Camp Williams, UT. Barnes was named Guard Soldier of the Year. —Photo by SFC Jon Soucy

At the end of the competition, held at Camp Williams, Utah, Specialist Cruser Barnes, a cavalry scout with the Hawaii Guard’s Troop A, 1st Squadron, 299th Cavalry Regiment, was named Soldier of the Year, while Sergeant Robert Cunningham, a combat engineer with the West Virginia Guard’s 119th Engineer Company (Sapper), was named the NCO of the Year. Both will move on to compete in the 2015 all-Army Best Warrior Competition in October at Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia, where they will compete against Soldiers from throughout the Army to be named the Army’s Soldier and NCO of the Year.

Barnes said he’s ready to take on the challenges that come with moving to the next level of competition. “I’m stoked and ready to start training for the next event. I’ve got some time — it’s not until October — but I’m ready to get in it and give it my best.”

The Utah competition stood as a grueling three-day test that stressed competitors both physically and mentally.

“It pushes you to your limits,” Cunningham said. “[You’re stressed] and it really teaches you what it takes to be a well-rounded Soldier.”

To make it to the Army Guard-level competition, the competitors worked their way up from winning unit-level Best Warrior Competitions and through several more competitions.

“These Soldiers are already five-time winners,” explained Army Guard Command Sergeant Major Brunk W. Conley. “They’ve already won their unit Best Warrior competition, the battalion, the brigade, the state, the regional. These folks have been in competition for months now. They’ve already demonstrated what it takes to compete and win.”

For Cunningham, this year’s event marked his second time competing in the Army Guard-level competition. He took part in last year’s competition at Camp Joseph T. Robinson, AR, and said that while both competitions were equally strenuous, the terrain and higher elevation of Camp Williams brought added challenges.

“The higher you get, the less oxygen you have,” he said. “With the miles we’re putting in, it’s harder to feed those lungs oxygen, so you’re wearing down faster, you’re tired faster, and you’re sucking for air. But it’s about equal for everyone here.”

Barnes agreed. “The elevation and the air is totally different here. It’s really dry, so it’s totally different when you’re running.”

The competition began with the Army Physical Fitness Test, consisting of pushups, sit-ups and a two-mile run. From there, competitors toughed it out in a number of events that covered marksmanship, close quarters combat, land navigation, casualty evaluation and a variety of other tactical and technical skills. In all, they ran or traversed more than 20 miles of terrain over the course of the competition.

Barnes said the stress shoot event, in which competitors engaged multiple targets at several stations spread over a six-mile course, was one of the most challenging. “It was pretty challenging to do that whole course and shoot, move and run between ranges, then calm down and shoot again.”

For Cunningham, getting through the competition was a matter of focusing on one task at a time. “Basically you just tell yourself one more task. It’s just one more task, get to the next one, and then the next one. Whether you perform well or you perform poorly, you just put it behind you and focus on the next one and put one foot in front of the other and keep breathing and stay cool, calm and collected.”

Though it’s designed as a competition, the larger focus is the training value for those in the event, Conley said. Many of the events were developed and supervised by Soldiers from the Utah Guard’s 19th Special Forces Group.

“Special Forces are really integrated into this. They have a lot of equipment, a lot of experience and leaders who are using that to stress our warriors and test them to the highest level,” Conley said. “The real winners are their units, when they (the competitors) go back and they share their experiences with their peers and their subordinates and they take everything they’ve learned here and they put it into practice.”

For Barnes and Cunningham, the next step is putting into practice what they’ve learned in preparation for the all-Army competition. Both said they expect it to be even more grueling.

“[I’m going to] try and ramp up training as much as possible and push my body to new limits,” Barnes said. “Each competition you need to figure out what you’re weak at and train more and just work on those things.”

Cunningham said he will mentally prepare himself to get through it the same way he pushed himself through each previous competition. “Basically, you just tune out the pain. You focus on good thoughts — your friends, your family back home, and all the great opportunities and blessings just to be here. Once you put that into perspective, then the pain you feel is relatively miniscule.”

For now, Cunningham stands in awe of being named Army Guard NCO of the Year. “It’s an honor being able to represent all 350,000 [Soldiers in the Army Guard]. To be distinguished like that is an honor and a really humbling experience.”

If you’d like to pursue a career that lets you push yourself to new limits, visit the National Guard jobs board and contact a recruiter today.


Story and photo, by SFC Jon Soucy and courtesy of GX magazine, were originally published online on July 9, 2015. GX magazine is an official publication of the Army National Guard.

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Pushing the Boundaries Every Chance She Gets

SSG Sonia Buchanan

Staff Sgt. Sonia Buchanan, a Wisconsin Army National Guard Soldier who has already deployed with Special Forces in Afghanistan, is now one of the first female Soldiers in the 1st Squadron, 105th Cavalry Regiment. (Wisconsin National Guard photo by Capt. Joe Trovato)

Seven years ago at age 35, SSG Sonia Buchanan joined the Wisconsin Army National Guard with her sights set on personal and professional growth. She’s shattered that goal ever since, breaking one glass ceiling after another.

The shattering part begins in 2010, when the Army put out a memo that it was looking for the very first female volunteers to deploy with the Army Rangers and Special Forces to Afghanistan as part of a Cultural Support Team. SSG Buchanan immediately recognized the chance to serve alongside two of the most respected units in the military.

“They’re elite,” she explains. “They wrote the handbook on unconventional warfare. And in today’s modern battlefield, we just don’t fight wars how we used to fight them. They’re accomplished on a smarter level.”

The job of a Cultural Support Team is to engage with the locals, provide assistance (like medical care), and build rapport that can help to gain intelligence.

Along with two months of training in Afghan culture and the Dari and Pashto languages came some advice from her trainers about what to expect when integrating with the all-male Rangers and Special Forces. She and her classmates were told to anticipate more of an alpha male environment rather than a warm welcome.

What SSG Buchanan found instead from the men was respect. They understood what women would be able to accomplish on a mission through the relationships they could form with Afghan women.

“We could access a part of the population that they couldn’t. There’s more information to gain when you send out all your resources.”

Since returning from Afghanistan, SSG Buchanan has happily pursued additional roles within the Guard that previously were not open to women.

For instance, she served as a drill sergeant in 2014, and just this spring she became one of the first female Soldiers to serve with the 1st Squadron, 105th Cavalry Regiment. For now, she is the only female in her Unit, but two more women Soldiers will be in place by early next year.

SSG Buchanan also looks forward to trading in her current military occupational specialty (MOS) in Human Resources for 19D Cavalry Scout, when this particular combat job opens up to women.

“They’re the section that goes out in front of everybody else, so they’re leading the way.”

Also on the list: Completing the grueling Army Rangers physical assessment (this test just opened up to women in 2015), as well as becoming a Command Sergeant Major.

SSG Buchanan envisions a day when men and women in the military are given equal consideration in any job, but she also understands that combat roles aren’t for everyone. “Not every woman wants to be gung-ho, which is great, because we need to cover all bases and areas in the Army.”

That said, you never know what might be lying just beneath the surface. SSG Buchanan explains she wasn’t always quite so gung-ho herself. In fact, she describes her personality before joining the Guard as passive, having spent 17 years as a homeschooling, stay-at-home mom until she and her husband split.

Today, she believes she’s set a good example for her son and daughter, both teenagers, because she wants them to see all the things they can attain. “They’ve seen both sides of me. I think that they have a really good overall view of the capabilities of a mom and a female.”

SSG Buchanan says her journey over the last few years has opened her eyes to what women in the military are able to accomplish.

“For the females who are physically strong and mentally capable, I would encourage anybody any time to go for it and keep pushing the boundaries,” she says. “It’s only because women in the past have kept pushing and pushing for integration that now it is happening.”

If you’re ready to push your own boundaries, explore the Army National Guard’s more than 200 career paths on our jobs board, learn about our great benefits like money for college, and contact a recruiter today.

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