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Pfc. Heidy Restrepo, 20, of Paterson, N.J., is one of 15 “lady Manchus” with Company E, 302nd Forward Support Battalion.

Pfc. Heidy Restrepo, 20, of Paterson, N.J., is one of 15 “lady Manchus” with Company E, 302nd Forward Support Battalion. (Seth Robson / S&S)

Pfc. Heidy Restrepo, 20, of Paterson, N.J., is one of 15 “lady Manchus” with Company E, 302nd Forward Support Battalion.

Pfc. Heidy Restrepo, 20, of Paterson, N.J., is one of 15 “lady Manchus” with Company E, 302nd Forward Support Battalion. (Seth Robson / S&S)

302nd Sgt. Steven Morin, 24, of Ocala, Fla., works on a Bradley Fighting Vehicle at Rodriguez Range.

302nd Sgt. Steven Morin, 24, of Ocala, Fla., works on a Bradley Fighting Vehicle at Rodriguez Range. (Seth Robson / S&S)

RODRIGUEZ RANGE, South Korea — Soldiers from 2nd Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment are getting used to working with female troops assigned to Company E, 302nd Forward Support Battalion.

Although not officially 2-9 members, Company E soldiers, including 15 females, have been accepted as “Manchus” — 2-9 soldiers’ nickname — since December, when the units began a relationship as part of the 2nd Infantry Division’s transformation.

The Manchus were an all-male institution since females cannot serve with infantry units.

Company E soldiers have added “Manchu hair” — strips of camouflage material — to their helmets and blended in with regular Manchus training at Rodriguez Range last week.

“The 302nd soldiers are indistinguishable from the 2-9 soldiers. The only way you can tell them apart is the bumper numbers on their vehicles,” said 2-9 executive officer Maj. Tony Fritchle, 38, of Atlanta.

Another 2-9 soldier, 2nd Lt. Adam Kurland, 26, of Shrewsbury, N.J., said the female 302nd soldiers perform the same roles as male soldiers at the range.

“We consider them Manchus,” he said.

Pfc. Heidy Restrepo, 20, of Paterson, N.J., said working regularly with the infantry is “intense.”

Infantry soldiers have “a whole different picture of the situation,” said Restrepo, who drives trucks in support of 2-9.

“The training is different from working in a regular MSB (Main Support Battalion) or BSB (Brigade Support Battalion). The training is infantry-based. We do a lot more field problems. There are road marches and live fire. We wear a lot of gear and train in all weather conditions,” she said.

Company E commander, Capt. John Ruths, 39, of Colorado Springs, Colo., said his unit remained under command of the 302nd but is very close to 2-9.

“If you are a supporter in the Army you tend to be more successful if you align very closely to the unit you support. 2-9 is my customer,” he said.

The Company E soldiers walk the Manchu Mile, a 25-mile road march, alongside 2-9 soldiers instead of separately, like other units that compete in the event, Ruths said, proudly displaying the Manchu belt buckle he earned for completing the event.

Company E’s closeness to 2-9 is enhanced by the fact that most of the male soldiers serving with the unit used to be part of 2-9’s Headquarters Headquarters Company, he said.

Company E provides services such as food service support, bulk fuel transport, maintenance and provision of construction and barrier materials and ammunition to 2-9, he said.

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.

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