Story by Michael Strasser on 03/28/2019FORT DRUM, N.Y. (March 28, 2019) -- Members of the Fort Drum community gathered March 27 at the Commons to celebrate Women's History Month with an observance hosted by the 10th Mountain Division Artillery.
As guest speaker, Sgt. Maj. Rebeca Kennedy, 10th Mountain Division G-1 sergeant major, spoke about how women's history is America's history.
"The groundbreaking women of our past were bold and courageous, as they transcended preconceived expectations and proved women were just as capable as men," she said. "Although we've come a long way in America's history, we still have farther to go."
Kennedy said that even though women had provided service in all of America's wars, it wasn't until the establishment of the Women's Arms Services Integration Act in 1948 when women were granted permanent status in the U.S. Armed Forces.
She said that roughly 11,000 women were stationed overseas during the Vietnam War, and although they were not directly involved in combat, they provided critical support as nurses, physicians, clerks and intelligence officers in the Women's Army Corps (WAC).
When the U.S. entered the Gulf War in 1990, nearly 40,000 women deployed to Southeast Asia. While female Soldiers were far more integrated in formations than ever before, Kennedy said that women were still restricted from serving on the front lines.
"Collectively, we have made significant advances in our armed services throughout the years, showing our strength and determination to serve right besides our brothers in arms," she said.
Kennedy said that when she enlisted in 1991, drill sergeants trained them to be warriors, but they also informed the young female recruits that they would never serve in ground combat positions. She said that changed after 9/11 when the U.S. Armed Forces entered Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.
"We began serving alongside male Soldiers, performing the same duties in many instances in Iraq and Afghanistan," she said. "The war became a gray line for women, who found themselves in combat positions, and our leaders began to notice that men and women were capable of fighting alongside one another to fight the same war on the same team."
Kennedy said that gender would still be a restricting factor for certain assignments, as she would take note throughout her career.
"As a senior female leader, I felt a sense of longing for a role model in my very own institution that I proudly served," she said. "It wasn't until I was a battalion S-1 NCOIC (noncommissioned officer in charge) when I was introduced to my very first female first sergeant. She inspired all our Soldiers both male and female to work toward common goals while leading from the front of our formation and also showing she has outperformed her male peers."
In her own advancement to first sergeant and sergeant major, Kennedy said she was reminded of how far women had progressed in the military but also the challenges they still needed to overcome toward a fully integrated force.
She was assigned to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, at a time when the first female basic training recruits were enlisting into combat arms positions.
"I quickly realized that I was the only female sergeant major in the U.S. Army Fires Center of Excellence, among 30-plus male command sergeants major," Kennedy said.
At her first board meeting with these senior NCOs, Kennedy said that she was determined to make her presence known. Instead of taking her seat in the back, she took the placard with her name and moved it to the head table.
"I often wondered if my gender played a role that day, or did my assertiveness for inclusion make a difference that followed me the rest of my days," she said. "Needless to say, I'm a firm believer that you teach people how to treat you. I wanted to ensure early on that I was treated first as a sergeant major, and second, as a female."
Kennedy said that women should not use their accomplishments as a spotlight or a social experiment.
"Learn to be modest and not boastful in your achievements," she said. "I encourage you to be humble, credible and relevant as a female leader. But most importantly, understand that what you are doing is meaningful and it is going to make a lasting contribution to our Armed Forces and civilian workforce, and move this nation forward."