I drive on to Fort Carson each morning on the way to work during physical training (PT) hours and can't help but look over and see a few Soldiers struggling on their run or lagging behind during a road march. But I've also seen some Soldiers running faster than the others or jogging with a rucksack to gain an advantage over their peers.
The resolve in their faces makes my chest tighten when I see how hard they are pushing themselves.
Often these were female Soldiers. The ones who some people say are not fit to serve in all jobs within the Army but are doing their best to gain the respect of fellow Soldiers, sometimes in vain, but they try nonetheless.
This struggle has been going on for decades, but within the last year women in the military have achieved numerous milestones in the fight for equality and have finally been given the opportunity to pursue every job in the Army, including combat arms.
When I looked on social media for responses to integrating women into every job, I saw memes harking back to a 1950s' housewife who needs to make a "sammich" and comments by veterans who believe women are a distraction to the mission.
It hurts the most when I see friends and fellow spouses say on social media that women should not be included because they believe women are weaker or will seduce their husbands.
While I cringe at each of these musings, it strengthens my belief that women are making real progress in the military and causes some Soldiers to question their beliefs.
Despite numerous examples of women who have performed in combat, the initial pushback to the decision to include women in combat jobs has been offensive to those who serve on the front lines and support the mission every day.
No matter what your stance is on accepting women in every career field, Soldiers and NCOs need to stand together in welcoming these Soldiers into their ranks and support each other more than ever, because it is now Army policy.
As a former Soldier who served in the 101st Airborne Division, I had the honor to serve with outstanding NCOs who treated me as an equal. When we left the wire every day, I was always given the same level of respect as my male counterparts. When we received fire, there was never a distinction between genders because we were all Soldiers.
While at Fort Carson, I've had the opportunity to meet outstanding female Soldiers who have gone above and beyond just to be accepted as an equal during certain points in their careers. Whether it was by maxing out on PT, mastering their job skills or volunteering to take extra duties, these Soldiers set the bar higher for everyone in their units. It takes a lot of personal courage to overcome gender perception by beating discriminators at their own game.
Opening all jobs to women presents the situation where there are virtually zero female mentors in combat arms to help guide them in territory dominated by men. While it is an NCO's responsibility to foster all of his Soldiers' growth and development, leaders should ensure female Soldiers are given the same opportunity to demonstrate their potential to the benefit of their unit with full confidence.
I spoke with an NCO here recently who was assigned female Soldiers to support his team's mission and he said they exceeded performance expectations, to his surprise. Whether it was by keeping up during PT or showing up for an airborne jump with zero complaints in freezing weather, these Soldiers outdid themselves and hopefully changed how he felt about incorporating female Soldiers in the mission.
On my morning drive Monday, I will continue to keep my eyes peeled for these female Soldiers going the extra mile, knowing full well it means more now than it ever could before.