Advice for Women considering Combat Arms
by Josh Steffens from Hollywood Powder
Combat arms, my definition is relative to the US Department of Defense, “Is a collection of service members that participate in direct tactical ground combat”. Examples of units in tactical ground combat include infantry, combat engineers, cavalry, and artillery just to name a few. Combat arms, historically, have been a male-dominated force and off-limits to women until January of 2016. In January of 2013, it was announced by Gen Dempsey, “The time has come to rescind the direct combat exclusion rule for women and to eliminate all unnecessary gender-based barriers to service. The Joint Chiefs of Staff unanimously join me in proposing that we move forward with the full intent to integrate women into occupational fields to the maximum extent possible.”
Then on December 3rd, 2015 went down as a day of historic proportion when Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter released this “There will be no exceptions,” Mr. Carter said at a news conference. He added, “They’ll be allowed to drive tanks, fire mortars and lead infantry soldiers into combat. They’ll be able to serve as Army Rangers and Green Berets, Navy SEALs, Marine Corps infantry, Air Force para-rescue and everything else that was previously open only to men.” He continued by stating “the military service will be better able to harness the skills and perspectives that talented women have to offer.”
Army combat arms veteran
I am a 15 year Army veteran who has served within the combat arms community in deployments both CONUS and OCONUS (CONUS: meaning within the Continental United States, and OCONUS: Outside the Continental United States). Throughout my career, I have witnessed women flourish in combat. More recently with the number of women increasing in these roles makes it evident they have not only answered the call but are thriving. Here are five things I believe will help you be better prepared for the combat arms profession.
1. Carry your weight!
When I say “carry your weight” I’m not just talking about a rucksack. I’m talking about being a team player. There is no gender bias when it comes to pulling your own weight to help the organization succeed. The women that advance in these fields are not afraid to get their hands dirty. Whether digging fox holes or cleaning the barracks get involved! Pick up the shovel or broom; whether asked to or not, always lend a hand and show initiative, it goes such a long way!
As a Platoon Sergeant, I am the senior enlisted adviser to the Platoon Leader and quite frankly the keeper of time. The Platoon Leader makes the plan (sometimes I did); the Platoon Sergeant executes the plan. An important aspect to completing the mission is time management. I have always told my PLT “Punctuality is important.” Being at the right place at the right time will be something you should strive to do. It is simple; it does not matter if it is a board meeting or helicopter. Be there early and reassess the task at hand, this tactic will give you a heads up on those less prepared.
Take pride in being part of the 1%. Not a lot of people have taken the opportunity to serve, or even qualify to serve our country. How cool is it that you can serve and hold these combat roles? Your confidence will grow naturally with the experiences in the MOS you chose. Once completed with training you will move to your unit. I have seen it multiple times by lower enlisted females and plenty of men for that matter where they just want to keep quiet and mind their own business. In basic and advanced individual training your best course of action is to remain quiet and stick to yourself.
Once completed with AIT you are now classified as a subject matter expert within your field. Will you know everything pertinent to the job, no! However, you have built a foundation to continue to learn and grow within the combat arms. My best advice here is to stay engaged, ask questions, and continue to learn new ways to accomplish the tasks at hand. Take pride in the profession you chose, take pride in making it as far as you have!
4. Train harder
Let’s face it; men have an advantage when it comes to the physical aspect of the job. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t compete or kick their ass for that matter! I had a former Executive Officer and before that a PL. This officer was one of the first female Sappers in the Wisconsin National Guard. To be considered a Sapper you need to graduate the course. Sapper school is a 30-day grueling mental and physical shit show. If you want to learn more about it you can click the following links.
Back to the officer; …
She was a female and total badass! And she could outrun most men in the unit; she could lift more weight and do more pushups. Do you think she was just born like that? No, even she would tell you, get your butt out there and run, or get to the gym. You want to be the best, train to be the best. Get knocked down, get back up! Train harder and reap the rewards of your effort.
This is a touchy subject but I feel it is worth mentioning. There are ways to maintain a professional relationship within the Military however I have witnessed more bad than good. Whether in a relationship with someone from your unit or not, relationships can hinder readiness. Those that have been heartbroken in the past will tell you that these times of peril will fog your judgment and decision making. When relationships go sour they have shown Soldiers to be down and depressed.
Don’t fall into this trap!
This is not an office where you can manage a relationship with Dave from Accounting. These professions are deadly. You need mental clarity, and it’s just not worth jeopardizing the mission. Imagine dating someone within the PLT or company or that matter. One of the problems you could face is gossip. The rumor mill is prevalent in the military and you could risk having someone share your dirty laundry if the relationship does not work out.
Final Advice for women considering combat arms
In closing, these are some of the things I have learned in the last 15 years serving in the Army. I have seen many women fulfill their obligation and succeed. In order to succeed, you need to carry your weight by being a team player, show punctuality by being in the right place at the right time, maintain your confidence by continuing your training and staying actively engaged, train harder than those around you; both technically and tactically, and lastly, tread lightly when pursuing a relationship within your PLT or company.
You can and will not only succeed but thrive in these roles! Your skills and perspectives as women are what we need in the combat arms. I have no doubt you can flourish while fulfilling these roles!
Josh Steffens is a passionate father, veteran, and business owner. As the CEO and owner of Hollywood Powder Company, Josh has spent the last three years building a highly regarded brand. Josh and his team are focused on delivering high-quality products to hard-working men and women. In Josh’s current role within Hollywood Powder Company, he focused on emerging markets, growth, and places a large emphasis on customer satisfaction.