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Female soldiers in Fort Bragg's artillery units paving way for expanded role

Some soldiers wanted to break barriers. Others were unaware the barriers even existed.

But in Fort Bragg's artillery community, a growing number of female soldiers are taking positions once restricted to men - and they're holding their own.

Today, women fill five of 21 possible officer positions in the 3rd Battalion, 321st Field Artillery Regiment and seven of 23 possible positions in the 3rd Battalion, 27th Field Artillery Regiment.

Their growing numbers are part of a larger trend.

Earlier this month, Secretary of the Army John McHugh announced the formal opening of more than 3,500 field artillery officer positions to women.

Army officials said opening the positions to women is a way to ensure the Army properly manages its talents while balancing readiness and the needs of a smaller force.

On Fort Bragg, officials with the 18th Fires Brigade have been accepting women into positions previously limited to men since June. The unit has led the way among the Army, testing the waters for the expansion of other positions.

Brigade officials said the female soldiers aren't treated differently than their male counterparts. Their leaders have praised them for their work ethic and motivation and have said there's no difference between them and other soldiers.

"I have the same expectations for all of my soldiers," said Capt. Adam Buchanan, commander of B Battery, 3rd Battalion, 27th Field Artillery Regiment.

According to the 18th Fires Brigade, there are 16 female enlisted soldiers and 12 female officers in the brigade, split between two battalions.

The brigade is continuing to receive more female soldiers, and female officers make up a sizable portion of their unit's available positions.

Buchanan has two female enlisted soldiers and one female officer in his battery, which operates the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, better known as HiMARS. They have excelled, he said.

"We look at ourselves as a big family," Buchanan said. "The new additions were welcomed with open arms."

The officer, 2nd Lt. Alyssa Caylor, was one of the first female officers in the brigade, arriving in June.

"For me, there's no difference," she said of being a woman in the largely male-dominated world of artillery, praising the Army's efforts to integrate the field.

But Caylor said it took a unique brand of soldier to be willing to help break gender barriers.

"It takes a certain mentality to step into that role," Caylor said.

That mindset can be seen in some of the 18th Fires Brigade's newest soldiers.

On Tuesday, a group of soldiers with B Battery, 3rd Battalion, 321st Field Artillery Regiment practiced preliminary marksmanship outside their unit area.

The group was about half women, with several female privates who came to Fort Bragg less than three ago.

Pvt. Anna Guerrero said she chose artillery specifically because it recently was opened to women.

"I wanted to do something that was groundbreaking," Guerrero said.

She went through training at Fort Sill, Okla., with several other female soldiers. She said the women have stuck together for support.

"We were all really close. We always had each others backs," she said.

On Fort Bragg, she said she and others have been accepted as part of the family.

"It's been really cool," Guerrero said. "We're just like brothers and sisters."

Pvt. Michelle Hill said she had many options when she signed up for the Army, but thought it would be exciting to be among the first women in artillery. In training, the female soldiers did just as well as their male counterparts, Hill said.

"Sometimes better," Hill said.

Another soldier, Pvt. Kera Clark, said she signed up for the Army not knowing that her chosen job was previously barred to women.

"I didn't know that when I was signing up for it," she said. "I just wanted to do something that looked cool."

Clark said the fires community on Fort Bragg has done well to welcome her and other female soldiers with open arms.

"We are treated as normal soldiers," she said.

Officials said the brigade will continue to grow its ranks of women soldiers through the year, setting the framework for the opening of additional jobs not yet opened to women.

Armywide, the openings are part of larger, ongoing efforts to open positions to women.

According to officials, women now serve in 95 percent of all Army occupations and make up about 15.7 percent of the active force.

Staff writer Drew Brooks can be reached at brooksd@fayobserver.com or 486-3567.

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