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.
“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.