Female soldiers ask for, receive no special treatment
October 21, 2007
BALAD, Iraq — The road is long for those in convoys who help deliver “bullets and beans” to U.S. forces in Iraq’s myriad combat outposts. A short trip easily turns into 12 to 15 hours if roadside bombs are found, and they often are.
But convoys are one of the few places where active-duty women commonly are found outside the wire. And that’s where they like to be, according to a group of 30 women from three Army convoy security units who assembled in Balad last week.
“I’ve been here before — I did the FOB thing,” said convoy commander Sgt. Jo Parker, referring to a prior deployment to Iraq where she stayed inside a forward operating base.
“Now I want to be in the fight,” said the 23-year-old from Glendale, Ariz., who works in the Arizona Army National Guard’s 259th Engineering Company.
The women headquartered at Logistics Support Area Anaconda describe their job as “driving up and down the highway.” Working as gunners, drivers and medics, they escort contractors as they take goods and fuel from the hub at Anaconda to outlying bases.
“There’s no such thing as girl jobs when you’re in the Army,” said Spc. Tiffany Lovett, a 24-year-old in the 418th Transportation Company based in Fort Hood, Texas.
“If you do convoy security, you basically do the same job.”
That includes spotting roadside bombs, said lead vehicle commander Sgt. Rachel McQueeny of the 259th Engineering Company.
McQueeny, 26, of Apache Junction, Ariz., found five roadside bombs on this deployment alone. Roadside bombers don’t discriminate, she said.
“If you are wearing an American flag, you’re a target,” McQueeny said. “We find them (the bombs) in different ways; but we’ve all been hit.”
The job also includes protecting your assets, said 259th Engineering Company gunner Spc. Tanya Curtis. The 25-year-old from Window Rock, Ariz., hasn’t been in a serious firefight, but she has shot her weapon, she said.
“It was an escalation-of-force situation,” she said.
Spc. Sara Gordoa, a medic with the 259th Engineering Company, was in a convoy in March when the lead vehicle got hit. The life-and-death situation drew everyone closer, said Gordoa, 22, of Glendale, Ariz.
“One of the guys was messed up pretty bad and we did the best we could,” she said. “You really see what people are made of, and see who people are when that happens.”
Danger is part of their duty, said Spc. Nicole Reuter of the Nebraska National Guard’s 755th Chemical Company based in O’Neill, Neb.
“We signed the papers; we knew this was a part of it,” said Reuter, 19, of Cassville, Wis., as others in the room murmured their approval. “It’s our duty.”
But one thing irks them to no end: being set apart as “female” when it comes to their job. Some women declined to be interviewed for this article because they thought it would do that.
“We’re all soldiers — the males make a bigger deal out of it than we do,” said Pfc. Ariene Hunt, 28, of the 418th Transportation Company.
And civilians make an even bigger deal than that, said her colleague, Pvt. Jessica De La Cruz, 21, of San Antonio.
When Spc. Rachel Zack, 23, goes home to Cloquet, Minn., people always “react big” when she tells them she drives a wrecker for the 259th Engineering Company.
“I drive around a really big tow truck,” Zack explains to them. “And I love my job.”