Last Women's Army Corps Members in Iowa Army National Guard Describe Military Memories
JOHNSTON, Iowa --
In 1942, the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps was born in an attempt to supplement a force stretched thin by World War II. By 1943, the Army dropped "Auxiliary" from the title and created the Women's Army Corps, its own segregated branch of service.
The WAC provided thousands of women the opportunity to serve their nation from 1942 to 1978. For many of its soldiers, donning khaki and olive drab and sporting the golden insignia of the Pallas Athene – the goddess of war – the journey started in Iowa.
Fort Des Moines, Iowa, was named the first training center for the Women's Army Corps, preparing women for careers in switchboard operating, weapons repair and baking. Later, WAC jobs expanded to include roles for typists, postal clerks and drivers, among others.
Though the WAC was disbanded in 1978, alumnae have had a long-lasting impact through continued service in the Iowa National Guard.
Chief Warrant Officer 5 Marty Hupp, of Grimes, Iowa; Chief Warrant Officer 3 Cathy Hill, of Winterset, Iowa; and Staff Sgt. Carmen Davis, of Ankeny, Iowa, each enlisted as members of the Women's Army Corps in the late 1970s and have served in the Iowa Army National Guard.
100 Combined Years of Service
As each of these soldiers plans her exit from the Iowa National Guard after a combined 100 years of service, they take with them the memories of a much different Army.
"My family didn't have the money to send me to college," said Hill, who joined in 1975, following a friend from her high school softball team. Although she saw joining the WAC as a way to provide for herself, she said, the stigma of being a female service member was hard to accept for some members of her family. "They didn't know what to think," she added.
After being told she was too short to be a military policeman, Hill opted for a job in communications as a field wireman.
Oddly enough, Davis' height – she is 5 feet tall – was largely the reason she joined the program that same year.
"I wanted to get a job at Dairy Queen, and they wouldn't hire me because they said I was too short to reach the cones," Davis recalled. At the time, the economy was grim in her native Yuba City, California, and she thought a career in the military was her ticket out, she said.
Davis also joined the WAC as a field wireman. She shipped off to Basic Combat Training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, in May 1976.
Though she and Hill never crossed paths during training, they each spent several months that summer in South Carolina, learning how to handle weapons, wear gas masks, render aid and apply makeup.
Yes, really. The WAC basic training included a personal appearance and health class, which addressed hair and makeup tips. Davis remembered sitting through the class tired, sweaty and frustrated.
"Times were way different," Davis said, communicating a culture of discrimination and segregation that wouldn't be tolerated in today's Army.
Changes by 1997
By the time Hupp joined in 1977, the makeup classes were cancelled and her all-female basic training unit was placed amid a battalion of men. Though the training wasn't co-ed, Hupp said, her unit was among the first to follow the same training schedule as that of the men.
Hupp said she joined the WAC for many of the same reasons as Davis and Hill: she wanted a stable career, and college didn't seem like her best, or only, option. Later in their careers, however, each of the three women pursued college degrees.
"The emphasis on college wasn't what it is today," Hupp explained.
As a high school student in Audubon, Iowa, Hupp had worked an internship of sorts at the local armory, helping with pay and personnel issues 10 hours a week. As a senior in high school approaching graduation, she said, she decided she might as well join the Iowa National Guard, because she was already doing the job.
Hupp joined as an administrative supply technician, a military occupational specialty that has transitioned into today's human resource specialist.
She said she felt accepted by her male peers, who were familiar with her work ethic during her internship and who respected her ability to fix any issues regarding pay or records. She said there was still a stigma about women in the Guard, but she was determined not to let anyone's opinion get in her way.
"I've always set out to excel at whatever I do," Hupp said. When faced with criticism from others, she said, she was prepared to hold her own. "You really had to be able to stand your ground and know who you were and how you wanted to participate," she added.
Davis and Hill agreed a "can-do attitude" and the ability to "carry their own load" helped them carve their path through a changing culture as gender roles in the military progressed along with the rest of society.
"It wasn't [just] the military's problem, it was the world's problem," Davis explained.
As Hill, Davis and Hupp advanced in their careers, they became natural role models for junior soldiers. Hupp, the only currently serving female chief warrant officer 5 in the Iowa National Guard, was assigned to a task force to address retention challenges for female soldiers.
In 2016, Hupp helped to organize the first Iowa National Guard Women's Leadership Summit, an event designed to provide networking and support channels for female Soldiers meeting certain crossroads in their careers.
"I feel like I've had every opportunity to succeed in the organization," Hupp said. "Some of that I think is from my own stubbornness, as well as organizational changes."
As the final WAC descendants prepare to retire, they leave behind a lasting mark of dedication, leadership and inspiration.