N.H. Guard Officer First Woman to Graduate Army Infantry Course
LONDONDERRY, N.H. – Second Lieutenant (2LT) Katrina Simpson of New Hampshire made history in October when she became the first female Guard officer to graduate from the U.S. Army infantry officer basic course at Fort Benning, Ga.
2LT Simpson was one of 10 female lieutenants in a class of 166 to qualify as an infantry officer after completing the intensive, 17-week combat leadership school.
It was the first class to include female officers since Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced late last year that all military occupations, including combat positions, would be open to women. Assigned as a platoon leader to New Hampshire Army National Guard’s Milford-based mountain infantry company, 2LT Simpson will return to Fort Benning in January 2017 for the pre-selection phase of Ranger School.
At 28, 2LT Simpson is married and has a 4-year-old daughter. She holds a master’s degree, and worked as a clinician with children suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
On the day before her graduation, held Oct. 26, she spoke about the life-altering decision she made three years ago to join the Guard and where she hopes it will lead her.
What made you decide to join the military when you were already well on your way to establishing a career?
My dad is a retired Navy chief warrant officer so I always had wanted to be in the military. I played around with the idea in college. I talked to a lot of different recruiters. Considered going enlisted, considered going the officer route, and then I kind of gave up on the idea. I settled down with my husband, started a family, and finished grad school. I started working as a professional, and then one day I was just kind of thinking I wasn’t satisfied and thinking about what I could do. So I started looking at other options. I don’t remember how I stumbled upon it, but the National Guard page popped up (on the Internet), and there was the recruiter’s information for my area. I shot her an email, and she responded instantly. Two weeks later, I went to get my physical, and two weeks after that, I was at basic training.
You were 25 when you went through basic training?
And then back to the New Hampshire Army National Guard and Officer Candidate School.
I was considering branching medical or personnel, but as I went through officer school, I started leaning toward the idea of wanting more out of my training. I wanted more hands-on. I’ve had a few, really great mentors along the way who encouraged me to go combat arms. I was originally going to go field artillery because there was an opening in the State, but then infantry opened up.
How did your husband feel about it?
He wasn’t a huge fan of me joining the military in the first place, but he’s come around. He knows me well enough that once I get an idea in my head, I’m probably not going to let go of it until I’ve given it my best shot. When I told him I wanted to go infantry, he was kind of like, “Yeah, I knew this was coming.” He’s been really supportive. He’s been a single dad for the last five months. He’s just an absolute rock star. He has a high-stress job as well. He’s a probation officer in Nashua so he’s got a lot on his plate right now.
Have your classmates at Fort Benning been supportive?
I haven’t had any issues, honestly. We are broken down into squads. I’m the only female in my squad. We’re the weapons squad so we get to carry a lot of heavy equipment. I’m really close with the guys. We jibe really well. We trust each other. We depend on each other.
I imagine you’ve heard your share of opinions since you’ve been there?
I’ve met Captains down here in the Captain’s career course who have Ranger tabs who will say, “Yeah, but I got my Ranger tab before they lowered the standards to let females through.” You’ll hear comments like that or classes ahead of us, and they’ll say, “We’re the last class before they changed the standards.”
But have they really changed the standards?
No. The standards are still the same.
Do the comments bother you?
It is what it is. I sort of expected it. At the same time, there are still a lot of males who don’t pass the standard.
Was there any part of the infantry course that was especially tough?
The hardest part for me was the academic component. I’m not a good test taker, and I don’t love the way the Army teaches new information: We’re going to give you this class for an hour, then we’re going to give you this study guide, and tomorrow we’re going to take a test on it. That’s always been a struggle for me. I prefer the field exercises. I’ve tried to get used to it over the last three years. Every time I think it will be a little easier. But I do okay. To be fair, I’ve had cadre who are excellent, and then others who are strictly by the PowerPoint.
What’s your advice for other women who want to follow in your footsteps?
You won’t know until you try. The idea does sound scary to a lot of people. What was surprising to me were the comments written about Capt. Kristen Griest (one of the first females to graduate from Ranger School). I had been reading about her for a long time, and the things people said (on social media) about females being in the infantry were horrible. But at the end of the day, these people are sitting behind their computer screens. You know, they’re not actually out in the world. So far I haven’t seen any of those people. Since I’ve got here, I’ve felt supported. I haven’t encountered any of those people and really, they’re not even in the back of my mind anymore.
What’s motivating you?
That’s a question everyone has been asking me. There are a lot of factors, but there are really three, and these aren’t in any particular order of importance. I want my daughter to know that when she is deciding what she wants to do when she grows up that there are no limits, and she can be whatever she wants to be. I feel that’s an important reason when I take a step back and realize what I’m doing here in I-BOLC (Infantry Basic Officer Leadership Course) and how important it is to other women who want go down the same path. Reason No. 2 is that I just enjoy a challenge. I like anything that is physically demanding, mentally demanding, tactically and academically demanding. So anything that causes me to go outside of my comfort zone and pushes me to try harder. Lastly, my goal as a professional is to work with combat vets, Soldiers with combat-related PTSD. To me, it’s really important to understand where that PTSD comes from and to have that first-hand experience. That’s the population I want to work with.
So, if you’re motivated to test your limits like 2LT Simpson, the Guard offers training in more than 150 career fields. Check out our job board for details on each career or contact a recruiter for one-on-one assistance.
(From original article LTC Greg Heilshorn, New Hampshire Army National Guard, which appeared in October 2016 in the news section of NationalGuard.mil.)