Women Soldiers Get More from the Guard

Lieutenant Colonel Says Opportunities and Benefits for Women Growing Steadily

In honor of Women’s History Month, On Your Guard takes a look at 21st century changes that are providing more opportunities for female Soldiers through the perspective of a West Point graduate who is now a leader in the Florida Army National Guard.

Fresh out of West Point in 2000, Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Elizabeth Evans chose Fort Hood, Texas, as her first duty station. As the largest Army installation in the country, she expected to find the widest range of opportunities for a female civil engineer like herself.

But out of 10 engineering battalions there, 9 were combat mechanized engineering battalions, restricted to men only, with women allowed to serve only in support roles within each headquarters company. The other was a construction battalion that was open to both men and women serving as an engineer platoon leader, but it had a waiting list more than two years long.

LTC Evans decided to request assignment to the 1st Cavalry Division’s 20th Engineer Battalion, knowing she would be able to serve only in a support role. It was here that she served as a support platoon leader within a support company, handling logistics for her male engineer peers and friends from West Point, but her heart was in commanding a combat or construction unit.

She was later told that 80 percent of the Army’s construction formations, which were 100% open to women, were in the Army’s reserve components – the Army Reserves or Army National Guard, causing her to question if the opportunity for a female engineer officer to lead engineer Soldiers would ever truly exist for her or others on Active Duty.

So, in 2005, frustrated by the lack of options available, LTC Evans left the Army for the Florida Army National Guard, which has a dual mission of serving the Nation and responding to local emergencies, like extreme weather events.

“When I looked at the mission of the National Guard and the fact that they responded to states of emergency that the governor requests help on, I thought, ‘This is awesome. If a hurricane hits, we come in with our engineer equipment, and we get to help our citizens and neighbors restore the community that I will be a part of.’”

Because Guard service is part-time for the majority of its members, she also had the opportunity to pursue her engineering career in the private sector as a superintendent and project manager in residential and commercial construction. She is a certified General Contractor and serves as the Southeast U.S. Director of Construction for Source Refrigeration and HVAC, Inc.

Within 6 months of moving to Florida, she was asked to command a Horizontal Construction Company in Live Oak, Fla., finally having the opportunity to command engineers as an engineer officer. She is now Commander of the 53rd Brigade Special Troops Battalion outside of Tampa, a battalion that is comprised of a combat engineer company, signal company, military intelligence company, and a headquarters company.

“I had multiple opportunities for command which never would have happened had I stayed in the active Army,” she says.

Out of seven battalions in their Infantry Brigade within the Florida Army National Guard, two are led by women: LTC Elizabeth Evans, 53rd Brigade Special Troops Battalion Commander, left, and LTC Cindy Harkrider, 53rd Brigade Support Battalion Commander.

Out of seven battalions in their Infantry Brigade within the Florida Army National Guard, two are led by women: LTC Elizabeth Evans, 53rd Brigade Special Troops Battalion Commander, left, and LTC Cindy Harkrider, 53rd Brigade Support Battalion Commander.

Still, LTC Evans has seen a lot of progress as far as the Army allowing equal opportunity for men and women, and in attitudes of acceptance of female Soldiers as equals in her 17 years of military service, pointing to these signs of progress: women were accepted and have graduated from Sapper School, the combat engineers’ defining school for their field. Women have been accepted to and graduated from Army Ranger School, which is the Army’s premier tactical leadership course; female Soldiers were successfully attached to Special Forces in Cultural Support Teams in Afghanistan; and in 2016, the Department of Defense opened all military direct combat jobs to women.

LTC Evans, who led 300 missions in a combat zone in Iraq, during Operation Iraqi Freedom II, is a proponent of equal opportunity, but ultimately, the fit needs to make sense.

“If there’s a high-speed female Soldier that can throw on a ruck and march as long and as far and as well as her male peers, then she should absolutely have that opportunity,” she said. “I don’t think every male Soldier is right for some of the positions in the Army, just like I don’t think every female Soldier is right for every position in the Army. But, if you evaluate Soldiers as a person and put the best person in the job, then I think we’re going in the right direction.”

But even just last year, LTC Evans said she felt she had to plead her case as to why she was the right person to serve as a task force commander for a counter-narcotics mission training military components in three Central American countries.

“There was some hesitation: is a female going to get the same respect from these other countries because they don’t have females in leadership roles and because of the cultural differences between us?” she recalls. In the end, she was told by several high ranking officials, both in the U.S. and in Central America, “You proved to us that this can work. Women can do this and do it with record-setting results.”

For LTC Evans, that mission was a chance to inspire cultural change in other countries. In her own unit and within the Florida Army National Guard, she enjoys the opportunity to develop and mentor Soldiers.

“I think I’m extremely fortunate to be a female in the Army National Guard because of the opportunities I have to be a role model to others, both male and female. I have the ability to show younger Soldiers coming in that anything is possible regardless of your gender.”

Her advice for anyone considering joining the Guard is gender neutral.

“Go in all in. Push yourself. Don’t be scared. Challenge yourself to be more and do more because you will get 10 times in return whatever you put in.”

She looks at the Guard’s future as being full of possibilities.

“There are great opportunities. We could sit here and focus on the past where there were restrictions on females serving in certain roles, but let’s all move past that. Let’s appreciate where we’ve come from, but let’s focus on the opportunities all Soldiers have to lead our Army into the future.”

So, if you are curious about all the opportunities within the Guard, our job board is a great place to start. You can search Guard careers by keyword, location, or category. There are more than 150 options available in fields like armor and field artillery, intelligence, and logistics support, just to name a few. Contact your local recruiter for more information.

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Always Ready, Always There Reflects Guard’s Ability to Change with Times

An organization that is actually older than the country it serves could not have survived for nearly 380 years without being able to change with the times.

The Army National Guard, which will celebrate this milestone birthday on Dec. 13, continues to live up to its motto of “Always Ready, Always There” by adding new areas of focus and new career opportunities that reflect national trends. We at On Your Guard thought we’d take a look back at new initiatives and changes that got under way over the course of the past year.

Because cybersecurity is a top concern for anyone who uses technology, the Guard began focusing on standing up 10 Cyber Protection Teams in an effort to help the Nation better defend against cyber attacks. When we spoke with LTC Matt Chytka last fall, he anticipated Guard careers in technology and intelligence would continue to grow, just as they have in the private sector. 

National Guard Soldiers.LTC Chytka said the Guard was uniquely qualified to improve the country’s “cyber posture,” due to the fact that service is part-time, which allows a Citizen-Soldier® to attend school or work full- time in a private sector career.

“We have a very strong ability versus our active duty brethren to attract, and, particularly, to retain, highly skilled cyber military professionals that the Nation requires in order to maintain a keen cyber edge and superiority in the cyberspace realm,” he said.

While the Guard expands its career opportunities in STEM, it is also opening up more jobs to women.

The Guard, along with every other branch of the U.S. military, started seeing new faces in different roles last year as the Department of Defense (DoD) loosened restrictions regarding women serving in combat roles. Ultimately, the DoD announced in late 2015 that all military combat jobs, without exception, would be open to women who met the qualifications, like 2LT Tracci Dorgan-Bandy, who became the first female artillery officer in the South Carolina Army National Guard.

For her, a combat-oriented job was just one more area where she could prove herself and excel. Her previous Guard military occupational specialties (MOSs) included 25P Microwave Systems Operator/Maintainer and photojournalist.

“The Guard has opened so many doors for me, so many opportunities. I’ve never had anybody shut a door in my face in the Guard,” she said.

With more than 150 career fields to choose from, many of the Citizen-Soldiers we’ve interviewed say they appreciate the chance to move into career fields that might be completely different than their previous MOS, like SFC William Bart, who went into marketing and recruiting for the Alaska Guard after serving for years as 31B Military Police, which is one of the most searched for careers on our job board.

“You set your own destiny as far as your career goes,” SFC Bart said.

Of course, the best place to start thinking about your career destiny is to take a look at our job board, where you can search by keyword or location. You can also search by category, broadly defined as Administrative, Armor and Field Artillery, Aviation, Engineer, Infantry, Logistics Support, Mechanic and Maintenance, Medical, Military Police, Signal and Military Intelligence, and Transportation.

And for one-on-one advice, or answers to any questions you might have, contact a recruiter.

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Women Break the Last Barrier on the Battlefield

In honor of Women’s History Month, On Your Guard takes a look back at women’s roles in protecting and defending their country, and how they will change in 2016.

As far back as the Revolutionary War, women have served alongside the American military working on the battlefield as nurses, cooks, water bearers, and laundresses. Some women went so far as to disguise themselves as men so they could serve as Soldiers in the Civil War. And as early as the Spanish-American War in 1898, female nurses served Army hospitals in and outside the country as far away as The Philippines and Guam.

By the 1940s, as World War II raged, more than 400,000 American women were serving their country in nearly every non-combat job. Fifty years later, women were serving on combat ships and flying fighter jets, but continued to face barriers that kept them out of the running to serve in direct ground combat roles – that is, until this year.

Department of Defense Secretary Ash Carter recently announced that after experimenting with and studying the matter for the last three years, all jobs in every branch of the military would be open to women who meet the qualifications for these positions beginning this year.

The announcement is undoubtedly welcomed by SSG Sonia Buchanan, whom On Your Guard interviewed last year. SSG Buchanan, the first woman to serve in her regiment in the Wisconsin Army National Guard, was looking forward to pursuing 19D Cavalry Scout as her newest military occupational specialty (MOS) as soon as it opened to women. This MOS is referred to as the eyes and ears of the Army, responsible for reconnaissance work on the battlefield.

2LT Tracci Dorgan-Bandy, whom On Your Guard spoke with last week, is the first female artillery officer in the South Carolina National Guard. Advising women who want to pursue combat positions to be fully aware of the physical and mental requirements of the job, she echoed some of the statements made by Secretary Carter, who said “… for a variety of reasons, equal opportunity likely will not mean equal participation by men and women in all specialties. There must be no quotas or perception thereof. 

As SSG Buchanan predicted last year, men and women will be given equal consideration when it comes to jobs, but not everyone is suited for a combat role.

“For the females who are physically strong and mentally capable, I would encourage anybody anytime 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.”

For more on how women have been immersing themselves into combat-oriented jobs over the last few years, see this video from the Department of Defense. 

Some of the National Guard MOSs that will be open to women this year for the first time include those in infantry, ground defense, and Special Forces. Explore these careers and more on our job board, and contact a recruiter today. As of 2016, the opportunities are truly limitless.

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