Kentucky Guard Women Excel in Previously Male-Dominated Specialties
FRANKFORT, Ky. --
"It's really an exciting time for women in the military," said Army Staff Sgt. Kathleen Braithwaite. "The perception has changed a lot in my time in uniform. It's no longer just little boys who grow up to be soldiers; little girls have that dream, too."
Her feelings are not unique. More than 1,000 women wear the uniform in Kentucky Army and Air National Guard units, and women make up roughly 15 percent of the U.S. military.
Braithwaite works full-time as a wheeled vehicle mechanic at Field Maintenance Shop No. 5 at the Army Aviation Support Facility here. She is one of two women in the shop. She said she no longer worries about working in "predominantly male environments.''
"The guard has always treated me as an equal. It is about being a soldier; your gender doesn't really matter. If you work hard and you want to learn, you will succeed," she said. "My first squad leader was also a female and she was fantastic. She is very passionate about her job and she has risen to become a chief warrant officer now and runs an FMS shop. I was the only female for a long time in my current position and the guys there treated me as an equal from the very beginning."
‘I Don’t Feel Any Different’
Army Pfc. Meghan Aube is one of only two female helicopter mechanics in the Kentucky Army National Guard. Like Braithwaite, Aube enlisted into a primarily male-dominated occupation, something neither of them thought too much about before swearing in.
"Being one of a select few females in my job, I don't feel any different," Aube said. "If you go out there and do your job and complete it as well as any of the guys do, there is no difference."
She added, "They treat you the same as anybody else and it's been that way the whole way through for me, through basic training, through [advanced individual training]. If you do your job, there is no male or female, you're a soldier, and that's just how it is."
Warrant Officer James Foley is the shop manager and Braithwaite's boss. He said he also feels that gender doesn't play a role in getting the job done.
"There is no difference based on her gender," Foley said. "Braithwaite is a [noncommissioned officer] and she conducts herself as such. She is a senior mechanic in the shop and is continuously sought after for technical advice from lower-grade mechanics. She's a strong leader, comes to work every day with the mindset to work and conducts her duties proficiently."
Both soldiers enlisted to challenge themselves, but neither originally considered becoming mechanics. Braithwaite said she couldn't even change her own oil in her car; now she's training other soldiers how to maintain millions of dollars' worth of U.S. military equipment.
"No one in my family knew much about vehicles and I remember spending time on the side of the road when one of ours broke down. Now my family calls me when they're having problems with their cars," she said. "I wanted a challenge when I enlisted; something I didn't know much about. Learning about mechanics has presented me with great challenges and I thoroughly enjoy it."
"I also have met some of my best friends in the Guard. I grew up as an only child and now I have all these brothers and sisters in uniform, and it's a wonderful feeling. We are a family."
‘Get in There, Do It’
While they have only served a few years, Braithwaite and Aube have solid advice for other women considering the military.
"My advice to women is to just get in there and do it. It was the best decision of my life," Braithwaite said.
"There are so many opportunities for women today, a complete ‘180’ from when I was little," Aube said. "There're more jobs open. You can stay enlisted, become a warrant officer or commission as an officer; if you set your mind to it, you can do anything you want to do."
Army Col. Michael Stephens commands the 63rd Theater Aviation Brigade, which Aube's unit falls under. He said there are more than 70 women serving in his brigade. He has seen many step up in a variety of roles and represent women in uniform with the utmost distinction.
"I never sit and think of the soldiers in my command as whether they are male or female," he said. "I have hundreds of great soldiers, aviators, mechanics, personnel specialists, logisticians, et cetera; and oh, yeah, many of them are female. They do their job and duty, and do it well. We should stop making a distinction with regard to their gender, and focus more on what they have accomplished as great human beings, who just happen to be female."
Women continue to break through the barriers of military service. It's been nearly two years since the Pentagon announced that all combat jobs are opened to women. With the additions of the first female Rangers and even the first females in the artillery and armor branches, strides are being made to level the playing field and allow female soldiers to become the newest trendsetters in the military.