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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Guard Soldier’s Father Forges Tokens of Appreciation for the Nation’s Heroes

Since the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, Randy Dack has made more than 4,000 “lucky” horseshoes for military service members worldwide. Randy made his first “Soldier’s shoe” for his son, Adam, prior to his first deployment in 2002 with the Nebraska Army National Guard’s 1-134th Cavalry. (Photo by SGT Jessica Villwok.)

GRAND ISLAND, Neb. – Randy Dack still remembers every detail from Sept. 11, 2001.

Randy, the blacksmith at Grand Island’s Stuhr Museum, vividly remembers hearing, “they just hit the World Trade Center.”

As terrible as the attacks were, Randy admits that his most immediate thoughts went to his son who had recently joined the Nebraska Army National Guard.

“Adam had been in boot camp about two weeks on that day,” he says.

Adam made it back home to Nebraska from Basic Training, but he didn’t stay there for long. Shortly after his return in 2002, Adam, who now serves as a Sergeant First Class in Hastings’ Troop A, 1-134th Cavalry, began preparing for a peacekeeping mission to Bosnia-Herzegovina.

After hearing the news that his son was heading overseas as part of a major mobilization of National Guard Soldiers, Randy, who began his career as a farrier, remembered the story of Dunstan the Blacksmith, the devil, and how a horseshoe came to be lucky.

In the story, a blacksmith named Dunstan was working in his shop when the devil walked by and became intrigued by the sound of a pounding anvil. When the devil realized the blacksmith was making horseshoes to protect a horse’s hooves, he thought that as a cloven-hoofed animal himself, that he, too, should have horseshoes to protect his feet.

So, the devil made a deal with the blacksmith to make him shoes. The blacksmith, realizing whom he was dealing with, ensured that every shoe he put on to the devil’s foot was still red hot from the fire while driving the nails down deep into the devil’s feet. After all of the shoes were on, the devil paid the blacksmith and left. Knowing it was bad luck to do business with the devil, the blacksmith threw the money into the fire.

Later, as the devil walked down the road, the nails drove deeper into his feet. Finally, unable to take any more pain, the devil stopped alongside a well and tore the shoes off, throwing them down the well.

To this day, it is a blacksmith tradition to ring one’s anvil three times at the end of the day to drive the devil out until the next morning, or, if the devil sees a horseshoe, he turns and runs away from it, remembering all the pain and torture the shoes had caused him.

“That is the reason a horseshoe is supposed to bring you good luck,” Randy says.

With that story in mind, Randy decided to make a miniature horseshoe for his son to carry in his pocket during his deployment. It would soon come to be known as the Soldier’s shoe.

Before leaving for Bosnia, Adam went to visit his dad at the museum one more time. He listened to the story as he looked at the keepsake. “That way you can carry your luck with you on the field,” Randy told Adam after the story.

Randy recalls, “Adam just stood there for a minute and looked up at me and said, ‘Every guy in my troop needs one.’”

“So, I made 65 more to give to every Soldier from his troop to take with them to Bosnia.”

All 65 Soldiers and horseshoes made it home safely, but they didn’t stay home for long.

Soon, the unit was notified of another deployment to Iraq, and a few years later, they were off to Afghanistan. Before the Afghanistan deployment, Randy once again made horseshoes for the entire unit, but this time at the request of Major General (MG) Judd Lyons, Nebraska adjutant general at the time. After MG Lyons learned about the keepsakes from Adam’s commander, he wanted to make sure all Soldiers could carry their luck with them in the field.

Randy gladly made enough horseshoes for every Soldier.

After that request, Randy began keeping horseshoes with him to give to any service member he came across. He has passed out horseshoes at gas stations, restaurants, and the Stuhr Museum. He also continues to tell recipients the story behind the symbol.

“It has just become a tradition, and working here at the museum, I have seen a lot of Soldiers come through. You can always tell a Soldier.”

He could even see the Soldier in an old friend he hadn’t seen in years. It turns out one of Randy’s high school classmates had chosen the Army as his career path.

Frederick Drummond, who at the time was a Major with the 82nd Airborne Division, came by the Stuhr Museum one day. Randy continued his new tradition of telling the story of Dunstan while he made his old friend a horseshoe to take home.

The next summer, MAJ Drummond came back to the museum while home on leave. He told Randy he thought he had lost his horseshoe which he later found. The close call made MAJ Drummond realize how much the tiny horseshoe meant to him and that he wanted all of his 500 troops in the 82nd to have horseshoes for their deployment.

Randy filled the order and just a month later, he received a phone call requesting more.

“It turns out one of the guys from the 82nd had been talking to someone in the 101st Airborne,” Randy says. “The 101st ordered 500 shoes.”

“We recruited friends to help with that,” laughs Sarah Dack, Randy’s wife.

It’s easy to see the pride Sarah and Randy have, not only in their son, but for all the men and women serving their country.

“Since 2002, my wife and I have given out well over 4,000 horseshoes,” Randy says. “I’ve got horseshoes under the ocean in submarines, in the Air Force, Army, and Marines. All branches.”

Randy and Sarah are all smiles as they talk about the service members and families they’ve touched, and hope they are making a small difference, even for those they’ve never met.

There have also been some tough memories created through their efforts.

“This story is hard to tell,” Randy says, his voice choking up.

One busy summer afternoon as Randy worked in his museum blacksmith shop, he noticed a young man standing in the back of the crowd wearing a Marine Corps shirt, missing part of one leg and standing on crutches. The man waited for the crowd to leave before he approached the blacksmith. “I hate to ask,” Randy recalls saying, “but did that happen overseas?”

The Marine replied yes and began telling his story.

The young man had joined the Marines out of high school. Shortly after finishing training he was deployed to Iraq, and was in country for three weeks when his vehicle was hit by an improvised explosive device. When he woke up, he was at Landstuhl Medical Center in Germany.

A nurse approached the wounded Marine and they began talking. She told the Marine about the vacation she and her husband took before she left for deployment. They had gone to a little museum in Nebraska that had a blacksmith who told the story about the Devil and the horseshoe. The nurse pulled a little horseshoe out of her pocket and handed it to the recovering Marine. She told him to take it because he needed it more than she did.

Then, as he stood in the blacksmith’s shop balancing on his crutches, the young Marine veteran dug into his pocket and pulled out the horseshoe.

“‘This shoe hasn’t left me since that day,’” Randy recalls the Marine saying. “‘I just got out of Bethesda (Naval Hospital) and I wasn’t going to go home to San Francisco without going through Nebraska and finding that museum and that blacksmith to say thank you.’”

After hearing the story, Randy made the Marine another horseshoe and asked him if he knew the nurse’s name and address, to which the Marine replied yes. Randy gave the Marine the second horseshoe and told him to send it back to her.

“That story of the Marine,” Randy says with watery eyes, “I still about lose it every time I tell it. When he left, I had to close the shop in the middle of the afternoon.”

“I cry every time he talks about that,” says his wife.

After discovering a miniature horseshoe similar to the ones Randy makes himself at a gun show in Hastings, Neb., it turns out the gesture has been practiced by blacksmiths for decades. Randy looked at the horseshoe – almost identical in every detail to the ones he makes – and then turned it over. On the back was the date – 1942. In 1942 there was a blacksmith in the Cavalry at Fort Hood, Texas, who made small horseshoes for every Soldier in his troop before they were sent overseas.

Randy now encourages other blacksmiths to do the same for service members.

“I’ve presented at one of the national blacksmithing conventions about doing this and sending these over,” Randy says. “Hopefully there are a lot more blacksmiths who are doing it.”

Randy and Sarah say they know what sacrifices military members and their families make. The horseshoes are just small ways to say thank you, to let them know they are not forgotten, and that they appreciate the fact that service members are missing birthdays, anniversaries, ball games, and family gatherings to serve.

“We just want to say thank you,” Randy said. “When they reach in their pockets and feel the horseshoe, it reminds them that there are people back home thinking of them.”

It takes a special person to promise to defend the American way of life at any cost. The Army National Guard has been defending grateful citizens of the State and the Nation for 382 years, making this branch of the U.S. military older than the country itself. If you want to be part of a proud legacy of serving part-time in your community during a crisis like a natural disaster, or protecting your fellow citizens overseas when your country needs you, contact a local recruiter to learn more.

From an original article by SGT Jessica Villwock, 11th Public Affairs Detachment, Nebraska Army National Guard, which appeared in the news section of NationalGuard.mil in January 2019.

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