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Evolving roles: Women in the infantry

By Staff Sgt. Shawn Morris, 50IBCT/PA; photo by Spc. Robert A. Posa, 444MPAD

Sgt. Kathleen Wilson took one small step several weeks ago when she joined the 50th Infantry Brigade Combat Team’s (IBCT) 2-113th Infantry Battalion.

She hopes it will one day lead to a giant leap forward for women in the military.

Wilson was transferred into the 2-113th’s Bravo Company from the 250th Brigade Support Battalion as part of the 50th’s efforts to integrate nearly 250 female Soldiers into units preparing for detainee operations missions in Iraq, duties normally carried out by military police.

“When you talk detainee operations, you’re going to be handling male and female detainees,” explained Lt. Col. Mark Piterski, 2-113th commander. “You need female Soldiers if they come into contact with a female Iraqi adult. An Iraqi male does not like a male Soldier searching an Iraqi female. The last thing you want to do is lose that relationship or not gain that trust.

Sgt. Kathleen Wilson
Sgt. Kathleen Wilson, 50th Infantry Brigade Combat Team's 2-113th Infantry Battalion.


“In our mission, it’s extremely important to have female Soldiers work on our team. It’s a force multiplier,” he added.

When Wilson joined the team just prior to the start of premobilization Annual Training at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pa., she wasn’t sure what to expect.

“I never really heard of females coming into infantry companies before, so I was a little surprised,” admitted Wilson, an X-ray technician in both military and civilian life. “I don’t know why I was chosen.”

The answer to that question is clear to her fellow Soldiers. “She’s really high-speed,” said 1st Sgt. Ruben Rodriguez, Bravo Company first sergeant.

“She’s one of the best NCOs I’ve had the pleasure to work with,” said Sgt. 1st Class Stephane Millhollin, Bravo Company platoon sergeant, who was also recently integrated into the 2- 113th. “She’s a natural leader.”

“You wouldn’t think she’s a new NCO,” Millhollin added, noting that Wilson graduated the Warrior Leader Course with superior ratings in October 2007.

Despite Wilson’s and the other female Soldiers’ qualifications and abilities – the idea of integrating females into combat arms units has met with some opposition. Detractors claim that women cannot physically keep up with men, that inevitable romantic relationships would lead to jealousy and competition, and that women lack the “killer instincts” needed for combat arms.

Integration supporters point out that nearly 200,000 women have served in Iraq and Afghanistan since Sept. 11, 2001, and that the non-linear nature of combat in the Global War on Terrorism has already forced all Soldiers – regardless of rank, Military Occupational Specialty or gender – to become warriors.

“For the most part, the integration has gone well,” Piterski EVOLVING ROLES: WOMEN IN THE INFANTRY By Staff Sgt. Shawn Morris, 50IBCT/PA; photo by Spc. Robert A. Posa, 444MPAD explained. “I think the units that have been successful have had strong female NCOs who have been mentors to the junior female enlisted Soldiers.”

“Bottom line: We haven’t worked with females before. It was terrifying initially,” explained Sgt. 1st Class Marco Chavez. “But the males in our platoon are like big brothers now.”

“They respect her rank. They’ve done a really good job,” Millhollin said of the male Soldiers in Wilson’s company. “Her knowledge and the way she demonstrates it – they respect her for that, too.”

“There’s a lot we can learn from the infantry guys,” she continued. “They’ve been very helpful sharing their knowledge” “They don’t treat the girls like girls,” she said with a smile.

Wilson has a lot to smile about, including a chance to earn her place – and perhaps a place for future generations of women – in an ever-expanding array of units and missions.

“When I signed up in 2003, females couldn’t do combat arms,” Wilson explained. “Things are changing, and being a part of that is an honor.”

“I’m proud that I’m able to serve,” she said.


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Volume 34 Number 2 Staff / Information
(c) 2008 NJ Department of Military and Veterans Affairs