March 27, 2008

Women in the Virginia Guard continue to blaze new trails

By Capt. Dayna Rowden
Virginia Guard Public Affairs

RICHMOND — The servicewomen in the past paved the way for today’s women warriors. Their path, made more difficult by discrimination and misconceptions by people both in and out of the military, was frocked with challenges that fortified their resolve and showed that these women could rise above and carve out a place for themselves in today’s National Guard.

Women in the Virginia National Guard now can serve as pilots, truck drivers, doctors, nurses, military police, mechanics and commanders, just to name a few of the many career opportunities.

Col. Kimberly A. Gugliotta joined the Army in 1991 as a field artillery officer. She was a female platoon leader for an all male platoon. 

“Being the only female in an all male platoon was more of an adjustment on the part of the men,” said Gugliotta. “Many men have opinions against women in the Army, but I maintained my professionalism and credibility to change those opinions.”

Gugliotta now serves as the first female Joint Director of Operations Plans and Training of the Virginia National Guard.

She is proud of her accomplishments and credits her success in part to the number of women served before her.

Today women work balance their roles as wives, mothers and career women. Between 1949 and 1970, Congress barred women with dependant children from serving in the military. 

Capt. Antoinette L. Allen of the Virginia Air National Guard, the Virginia State Equal Employment Manager and a mother, recalled that her grandmother was denied entrance in the military because she had children. Now mothers and daughters can serve side by side in the National Guard.

Many women, like their male counterparts, are challenged by balancing work and family and explaining to young children that “mommy” is going to deploy. However, these women work hard to fight the misconceptions that they can not be good warriors and good mothers.

“Public perception is a challenge. Some people see me as being less of a mother because I’m in the military,” said Allen. “I even hear it from other women.”

“I came in the Air Force during a time when it was hard for women,” said Master Sgt. (ret.) Shirley Cooper, who joined the Air Force 25 years ago. “Right after I joined, we were finally able to stay in and have a family and a career in the military.” 

Cooper says her family was key to her success in the Air National Guard. Her father inspired her to join the military, her husband is in the military, her mother helps care for her children when Cooper deployed, and her career is just as important to her children as it is to her.

“You really have to communicate a lot with your family so they understand how important your career is,” said Cooper.

Women like Cooper, Allen and Gugliotta helped open new doors for women today. Men in the military have become accustomed to working beside their female counterparts, and many young women are stepping up to meet the challenge of filling roles that had once been uniquely male.

“In the last 25 years, I’ve seen a lot of changes,” said Cooper. “I used to hear a lot of negative comments by men about women in the Guard. Now, I see women in almost every career field.”

Women like Spc. Jadee R. Collins, an all-wheel mechanic, are changing the face of the military.

Once women were limited to nursing and clerical duties, now they fill almost every role in the military. Collins, who hopes to one day be an officer in the Federal Bureau of Investigation, joined the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps at her high school after the Sept. 11, 2001.

“No one in my family had been in the military. After 9-11, I felt a sense of patriotism, I know it sounds corny, but I was something I felt I needed to do,” said Collins. “I was accepted into (Virginia Military Institute), but I enlisted so I could pay for college. I became a mechanic because I wanted the challenge.”

Before joining the Virginia Army National Guard, Collins knew nothing about cars. She was a class leader in her advanced individual training class, one of only 10 women in her class of 102, and can now repair humvees.

Right after finishing AIT, Collins deployed to Kosovo with 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Liaison Monitoring Team. It was her first time away from home.

“I was 19 years old, the youngest Soldier on the camp, I think, “ said Collins. “The only women who were supposed to leave the wire were on the LMT. Other than that, only infantry men were allowed to leave, which I’m firmly against, especially when we women can shoot better.”

“We have to be as tough, sometimes even tougher, than the men,” said Collins. “We have something to prove.”

Despite the doubts expressed by some, women in the Guard find that they have the opportunity to do things that they could not have done in the civilian sectors. These women dedicate themselves to setting an example, not only for other women to follow, but for the rest of the Guard.

The women of today’s Virginia National Guard serve with distinction and pride, knowing their service and dedication will open doors for future women in the Guard. 

“The sky’s the limit,” said Allen,” no one can put limits on you but yourself.”

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