NCOs create smooth transition for women integrating into Field Artillery
By Meghan Portillo
Oct. 4, 2016
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Since February, women have been proving that they have what it takes to be 13B cannon crewmembers, and their NCOs have been guaranteeing each an equal opportunity to rise to the challenge.
"When I first picked this military occupational specialty, I had sergeants telling me it was going to be very hard, that there are going to be males who don't want me in this job," said Pvt. Kiara Carbullido, who graduated in June from Advanced Individual Training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. "But then they said there will be NCOs who are going to look out for your best interests and push you to be your best, and I think that is exactly what our sergeants have done for us. They are helping us out, making everything equal between the males and the females. Whatever they can do, we can do."
The move to open most field artillery MOSs, including 13Bs, to women came in the fall of 2015, months before the decision was made in January to open all combat arms positions to women. The first female cannon crewmember, Pvt. First Class Katherine Beatty, graduated from AIT at the top of her class in March.
Many AIT platoon sergeants at Fort Sill said they never expected to see women in field artillery positions during their careers. All of them, however, said the gender integration training is going well and expressed a positive hope for the future of women in their MOS.
"Before I retire in the next few years, I would love to see one of the females here today become an NCO, become a staff sergeant, become a section chief," said 1st Sgt. Marlow Parks, first sergeant of C battery, 1st battalion, 78th Field Artillery Regiment. "I can't wait to see that, to be honest with you. I'm proud that I have had some kind of part in it, making sure that Soldier initially got the foundation she needed in order to advance. To me, it's a very rewarding job for me and my cadre to train these females, to see the Army change to where we are today. It's good. When I am long gone and retired, I can see a female command sergeant major in field artillery. She may be here now; you never know. The sky is the limit for all of these Soldiers, male or female."
AIT for 13Bs
Throughout the first three weeks of AIT, 13Bs learn about the equipment they will be required to use in their jobs. The first week covers the basics of communication. They learn the ins and outs of the radios and how to record firing data. During the second week, they study the ammunition they will fire – 105mm or 155mm rounds – and how to calculate targets. In the third week, they are introduced to the three artillery pieces they may work with: the M777 howitzer, the M119A3 howitzer, and the M109 Paladin self-propelled howitzer.
In the remaining two weeks of AIT, the Soldiers must apply the knowledge they have gained in real-life scenarios and learn how to work as a team. During the fourth week, each platoon takes their specified howitzer into a field near the motor pool for dry-fire training. The Soldiers run crew drills for the first time on the actual weapon. A live fire is conducted during the fifth and final week of training, and each crewmember must fire three shells to qualify on one of the howitzers.
No matter which howitzer a platoon works with, each crewmember must pass the High Physical Demand Test to graduate from AIT. The test levels the playing field, said Staff Sgt. Michael Prater, an AIT instructor for C battery, 1st battalion, 78th Field Artillery. It's difficult, and the requirements are the same. Both men and women are graded on the same scale.
"I have no problem with females being integrated into this MOS," Prater said. "They are just like any other individual. It depends on whether they can stand up to the physical demands of being a 13B. That's the reason they have to pass the Army Physical Fitness Test as soon as they get here, and then they go into the HPDT, where I have seen males fail just as much as females. It depends on the physical attributes of that person. Are they able to handle that stress? Able to handle those different MOS-related activities?"
Among other strenuous tasks in the HPDT, Soldiers must demonstrate their ability to load and unload 15 ammunition shells in 15 minutes. Each 155mm shell weighs about 100 pounds, so Soldiers are effectively moving 3,000 pounds in 15 minutes – a difficult feat, regardless of gender.
"It feels amazing to be one of the first females here," said Pvt. Jennifer Moreira, who also graduated in June. "The men aren't used to it – they don't expect us to do much, and it feels good to prove them wrong. They tend to say, ‘Oh, hey, let me get this.' No. We've got it. I like to prove them wrong. It's challenging, and these rounds are heavy, but our NCOs treat us all equally. They give us the opportunity to prove ourselves, and I think we all take advantage of that and prove we can pull our own weight. I am proud of all of us females. I am proud of what we can do."
Carbullido said she and the other women in her class would never use their femininity as a crutch or an excuse. They are more concerned with proving their worth. They chose this MOS because they know they have what it takes, she said. They don't want any handouts.
"In this job I feel like, finally, I can do something the same as guys – protecting my family and the United States of America," Carbullido said. "It's badass. I'm so honored to be a female in field artillery."
Sgt. Shannon Johnson, a platoon sergeant for C battery, 1st battalion, 78th Field Artillery, said he had heard NCOs express concerns that women would try to get away with doing less than their male battle buddies. However, the opposite has proven true.
"The physical demands testing has pretty much changed everybody's views of having females in artillery because – you would be surprised – most females are able to pass it, and some males are not," Johnson said. "There is always a technique. I have had big males that fail it. And smaller females come in here and just knock it out, first time go, with ease. I think most males think, ‘I'm strong; I've got this. I don't need to prep for it.' But the females come in, and we have rounds laying around. You see them on the weekends practicing, because they feel like they have to go the extra mile to prove they are worthy of being 13B cannon crewmembers. In my opinion, they are way ahead of the game.
"For all of our Soldiers, their hard work is worth it when they actually shoot that first round and see the cannon go off," he said. "We had some females shoot for the first time last week. That look on their face – yeah. It is worth the hard work they put in to it. I always tell them the hardest part is prepping to go to the field. Once you are out there and are shooting and you see the camaraderie of the team coming together, you're like, ‘Yeah, I'm part of something pretty awesome.'"
Adjustments for leadership
For Soldiers new to the Army, working alongside women is all they have known. But senior leadership will feel the minor adjustments, Johnson said.
Practical changes had to be made, including providing separate living quarters and separate outhouses in the field, and before the first woman attended AIT, leadership was required to complete a refresher course on Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention.
"I haven't had to make too many changes," Prater said. "Some things, like porta-potties, we have to label them to make sure the males don't go into the porta-potties that the females use. Sick call is a little different. If a female has a female problem she has to take care of or go see a doctor about, that's different, as opposed to a regular sprained foot or something to that nature. But training is no different. They wear the same ear plugs, eat the same MREs. So it's just minor adjustments we have had to make as instructors."
Staff Sgt. Allan Avendrano agreed the changes have felt minor, but said the overall experience has challenged him to be a better, more professional leader.
"Learning to lead females has definitely rounded me out as a leader, as an NCO. I never thought – not once – in my career, ever, that I was going to have female Soldiers to lead. I've been in the Army for 11 years, and this is my first time leading them, teaching them. And the No. 1 adjustment I had to make has got to be my language," he said with a laugh. "You can ask anybody on the gun line, and I'm fairly sure that is going to be the first thing they will say. They have to clean up their language a little bit more, but that comes with professionalism."
"‘Stop crying like a little girl' is something you would never say with females in your platoon," Johnson said. "No belittling language. We see the females work just as hard, and our language should reflect respect."
Parks said he tells his NCOs to remain confident in their leadership skills. The Army has prepared them well for this. The NCO Creed states "All Soldiers are entitled to outstanding leadership; I will provide that leadership. … I will be fair and impartial when recommending both rewards and punishment." As long as they follow TRADOC Regulation 350-6 [Enlisted Initial Entry Training Policies and Administration,] he said, they will do well.
"If you've got one standard for the male, it should be the same for the female. That is what I tell all my instructors. If you are a hard NCO, continue to be as hard with the female Soldiers as you would with the male Soldiers. Go from the book. Go from the manual. You will be all right."