Fort Bragg celebrates barrier breakers in salute to women soldiers
By DREW BROOKS | The Fayetteville Observer, N.C. | Published: March 28, 2018
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (Tribune News Service) — Lt. Gen. Laura J. Richardson was a pilot long before she joined the Army.
Richardson learned to fly by age 16. And after college, she commissioned as an officer to fly helicopters for the Army.
But 31 years ago, when Richardson joined the military, she wasn’t allowed to fly certain types of helicopters. Not because of her skill, but because Army rules prevented a woman from flying an attack helicopter.
Today, Richardson is one of the highest-ranking female officers in the Army. And women soldiers are able to fill any position in the force, to include flying attack helicopters and serving in and leading infantry units.
That change didn’t happen overnight, Richardson told soldiers as part of Fort Bragg’s Women’s History Month Observance.
“It didn’t just happen,” she said. “There was a lot of struggle. Probably a lot of failure. It didn’t just happen.”
Richardson, the deputy commanding general of U.S. Army Forces Command, is the first female officer to hold her position. And in 2012, she became the first female deputy commanding general of a maneuver division.
On Tuesday, Richardson spoke following a one-woman performance during which Kate Campbell Stevenson sang while portraying two famous female trailblazers — Bessie Coleman, the first African-American woman to be a pilot, and Eleanor Roosevelt, an activist and first lady.
In her speech, Richardson outlined many of the barriers that have been broken by female soldiers since the start of the nation’s military.
Women have served in every major armed conflict in U.S. history, she said.
Sometimes, they served through deception — like Deborah Sampson, a woman who disguised herself as a man to fight in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War.
And often, they served with distinction — like Spc. Monica Brown, an 82nd Airborne Division paratrooper who received one of the nation’s highest awards for valor, the Silver Star, after she saved the lives of fellow soldiers following a roadside bomb attack in Afghanistan in 2007.
Richardson, who has flown more than 400 combat flight hours in UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters over Iraq, said there’s a common thread throughout the history of women in the U.S. Army.
“There’s a willingness to serve our country, there’s a persistence to fight for the chance to serve equally as well as to serve as role models,” she said.
In her remarks, Richardson detailed her own rise in the ranks, starting with her youth as a competitive swimmer and amateur pilot. And she also spoke of the efforts of others, like Capt. Shaye Haver, who along with Capt. Kristen Griest became the first two women to graduate from the U.S. Army’s Ranger School in August 2015.
Haver, now an infantry officer with the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, served as master of ceremonies for the women’s history month observance.
“Our history is rich with amazing stories of strong, courageous and brilliant women,” Haver said, reading part of a proclamation issued by President Donald Trump earlier this year. “Since America’s founding, women have played an integral part in American innovation and productivity, while simultaneously raising generations of lively children and providing leadership in their local communities.”
“Time and time again, women have demonstrated resilience in the face of unprecedented challenges,” she said. “America’s women have readily tackled the disruptive forces and demands of wartime and embraced the technological and industrial advancements of the past 250 years. “
Haver said the theme of Tuesday’s event was “Women in War: Perseverance and Service.”
She said women add strength to the force.
“One of the qualities that makes American Armed Forces the best in the world is that we draw on the talents and skills of all our people, both men and women,” Haver said, noting that more than 10,000 women have earned the Combat Action Badge during combat operations, most of which have come in recent years.
The U.S. Army officially opened combat positions to women in early 2016, but women have often found themselves thrust into combat.
Brown, who served with the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, was part of a convoy of Humvees moving across eastern Paktia province, Afghanistan, when her unit came under attack in 2007. After a roadside bomb detonated, she ran through gunfire and used her body to shield her fellow soldiers.
Haver said Brown braved gunfire to move her fellow soldiers to safety.
Another soldier, Capt. Kellie McCoy, received the Bronze Star Medal with Valor for her actions in Iraq in Septeber 2003.
McCoy was a company commander in the 82nd Airborne Division’s 307th Engineer Battalion and led 11 paratroopers as part of a four-vehicle convoy that was hit by a well-coordinated attack of roadside bombs and enemy gunmen.
With three of their four vehicles damaged and several soldiers wounded, McCoy helped her soldiers survive the ambush and led them back to safety.
Another female soldier, Capt. Lindsay Gordon, was part of a two-person AH-64 Apache helicopter crew in December 2015 as Army Rangers were engaged in a fierce firefight near the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Gordon and the other pilot, Chief Warrant Officer 2 David Woodward, maneuvered their helicopter directly between the embattled U.S. troops and a larger force of enemy fighters, allowing the Americans to escape. They were later awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Richardson said women have always answered the call for their nation, even when they officially were not allowed to do so in combat.
Today, women have filled more than 220,000 combat positions previously closed to them and now serve as platoon leaders, infantry company commanders and more, potentially placing them on the front lines of future fights.
In praising the women who broke barriers, Richardson said she hoped that one day the Army would not need events like the one Tuesday.
“Maybe we won’t have these observances anymore because everything will be very equal,” she said.
©2018 The Fayetteville Observer (Fayetteville, N.C.)
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