While the U.S. Army’s recruiting slogan “Be all you can be” has been superseded by “Army Strong,” the women who spoke at the Army Women’s Foundation (AWF) Annual Summit on March 12th, exemplify the qualities embedded in both mottos. Captains Kristen Griest and Shaye Haver, the first two women to earn Ranger tabs from one of the toughest schools in the military, shared their experiences on a panel entitled First to achieve: Army women leaders and trailblazers who paved the way. These West Point graduates are now Infantry officers assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division. For their accomplishments, they were inducted into the AWF Hall of Fame.
The path to their current assignment with the All American Division was long, arduous, and uncertain. Even after August 2015, when Griest and Haver completed Ranger training, there was still a ban on women serving in direct-combat units. While the military services were discussing how to integrate women, it took a year and a half before the first female infantry officers completed their training and began reporting to the 82nd Airborne and 1st Cavalry divisions.
According to AWF Summit keynote speaker Gen. James McConville, Army vice chief of staff, more than 600 women have joined infantry and armor units since the direct-combat ban was lifted in 2016. Ten women have earned Ranger tabs and seven more are in training. McConville’s remarks were both personal and professional. His three children serve as active-duty soldiers, including a daughter who is currently stationed in Korea as a clinical social worker. McConville claims: “What we need in the Army is cohesive teams of trusted professionals.” But he also relayed his daughter’s assessment: “She says it’s better than it used to be, but it’s not where it needs to be.”
“Persistence isn’t very glamorous. If genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration, then as a culture we tend to lionize the one percent. We love its flash and dazzle. But great power lies in the other ninety-nine percent.” Susan Cain, author of The Introvert Advantage
The path to the Ranger tab and crossed rifles of infantry reflect the intersection of choice and chance. Kristen Griest said “I was just trying to set myself up for success if they let women into the infantry.” The success of Captains Griest and Haver combined hard work, supportive mentoring, and taking advantage of opportunities. While they have proved themselves as tough and tenacious trailblazers, being pioneers has its downside. There is a responsibility that comes with being first. Captain Griest said “Realizing that every unit I go to, to them I am what women in combat arms looks like. And any mistake I make suddenly completely discredits all of the women that are going to come after me.” She also explained: “Something that I wasn’t expecting to be as bad as it was, was just the backlash, like on social media,” which has included online death threats.
Ralph Waldo Emerson might have had Kristen Griest and Shaye Haver in mind when he declared: “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” They are living their dreams until the next challenge comes along.
Also read: Sisterhood Rising
© Joan S Grey, 16 Feb 2018
IndexCardCure™: Army Strong