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First three female soldiers join Fort Hood artillery unit

Melissa Czarnogursky wanted to serve her country, and she didn’t want to sit behind a desk all day. So when she heard that the Army had opened six previously male-only military occupational specialties to women, she asked for a list of the jobs.

One in particular caught her eye: Fire direction specialist. It involves collecting and transmitting data about missile and ammunition strikes, and helping those operating the multiple launch rocket systems know where to fire during combat.

The job also sounded exciting to Anika Degraff.

“I wanted to try something new,” Degraff said. “What better than to shoot rockets?”

Now, more than a year after the Army’s announcement, Pfc. Czarnogursky, Pvt. Degraff and Pvt. Larissa Schwerin are the first three female fire directions specialists with 41st Fires Brigade, based at Fort Hood in Texas.

The women arrived at Fort Hood about a month ago, and almost immediately went into the field for a training exercise that lasted about a week and a half. They said they were happy to get a quick immersion into the unit, and learn new aspects of their job. But Degraff said she was also surprised at how friendly everyone was.

“They showed us the ropes,” she said of her fellow soldiers. “They just wanted to show us how to do our jobs the best way.”

Czarnogursky said the unit made an effort to make sure the women fit in and didn’t feel separated from the rest of the soldiers.

Still, Degraff said it was kind of strange to arrive and have everyone already know who they were.

“I don’t see us as different than anybody else,” she said. “The only thing different is where we go to the bathroom.”

The three women said the job can be challenging, but nothing a woman couldn’t do.

Czarnogursky said many people were surprised when they heard about the job, but only because they didn’t realize it had been opened to women. She said she hopes other women will try this and other military specialties that were previously closed to them.

“You should go for it if that’s what you want to do,” she said. “As long as you can handle the job, you shouldn’t be treated any differently.”

Degraff said she has been surprised by the publicity the women have received.

“We get a lot of publicity for something that isn’t that big a deal to me,” she said. “I understand their excitement, but I’m putting on the same uniform you are, man.”

Still, she said, she looks forward to seeing the first female ranger, or seeing women in other jobs that have been closed.

“Obviously we’re different, but when it comes to the job, you put all that aside,” she said. “You learn to think past … male and female.”

Czarnogursky said she is proud to be part of history, but she also hopes the attention will die down soon so they can all just work on fitting in with their new unit.

“We are just trying to do our jobs,” she said. “We’re all green.”

hlad.jennifer@stripes.com
Twitter: @jhlad

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