Women in "Steel" Battalion make history

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Women in "Steel" Battalion make history

by: Staff Sgt. Felix Mena | .
U.S. Army | .
published: December 13, 2014

CAMP CASEY, South Korea --In May of 2012, United States Army leaders announced that women would be eligible to enter combat-related jobs previously barred to them. By opening up military occupational specialties that were once only available to men, female Soldiers were now able to fill the ranks of certain combat units throughout the Army.

The 1st Battalion, 38th Field Artillery Regiment, 210th Field Artillery Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, located between the bustling metropolis of Uijeongbu, South Korea, and the 38th parallel separating North and South Korea is one such unit.

The earliest group of female MLRS crew members and MLRS rocket system operations/fire direction specialists completed their Advanced Individual Training just recently with a number of them being assigned to the 1st Batt., 38th FA Regt., also known as the "Steel" Battalion.

"We are proud and honored to have some of the first female MLRS Soldiers in the Steel Battalion," said Lt. Col. Donald Potoczny, 1st Batt., 38th FA Regt., battalion commander. "Our female Soldiers are doing a fine job and we welcome them into the ranks of our combat MOS positions."

In addition to making history, many of these Soldiers are breaking barriers. Sgt. Nicole Hollenbeck, assigned to A Battery, 1st Batt., 38th FA Regt., who hails from Vancouver, Canada, is the first female MLRS launcher chief in the history of the United States Army.

Meanwhile, Pfc. Kendell Willis, assigned to B Battery, 1st Batt., 38th FA Regt., from Garnerville, New York, is the first female gunner to shoot live rockets on the Korean Peninsula. However, she has much larger ambitions for her military career aside from serving in a combat-related MOS.

"I want to change women's history," she said. And set a high standard for those that will follow in her footsteps.

When asked what advice she would give females who may be considering a career in combat arms, Pfc. Willis replied, "Be physically and mentally prepared. Don't come here and not be able to do ten push-ups."

She remarked about having to earn the respect of her male counterparts.

"We (females) have to work twice as hard to earn half the respect," she said. "I have to show them I'm not just this girlie little thing that wouldn't get dirty. I know how to pull an engine out!"

Pfc. Willis has set lofty goals for her military career. She would like to become a Sgt. Maj. in the Field Artillery and would also like to eventually become Sgt. Maj. of the Army.

She isn't the only one with goals and ambitions though. Each of these Soldiers has their own reasons for choosing a combat-related MOS and each has their own goals for the future.

Pfc. Lorraine Walsh from Vermillion, South Dakota, chose field artillery because she didn't want to sit behind a desk. She looks forward to the opportunity to test her combat readiness and her future goals include becoming a noncommissioned officer and section chief. Pfc. Walsh says she plans on staying in the Army as a long-term career.

"My family didn't think I could do it," she said. "I thought it would be groundbreaking to be one of the first females in combat arms."

Pfc. Hughs of Knoxville, Iowa, has this advice for females thinking of selecting a combat-related MOS.

"Stay motivated and dig deep down," she said. "If you want it you can do it. You just have to push yourself to your limits and be willing to step out of your comfort zone. Nothing is perfect and you'll hit lots of obstacles but don't let it stop you. Just get back up and show them that you are one very good Soldier!"

Excellence in equality at the "Steel" Battalion doesn't stop with the junior enlisted ranks. The 1st Battalion 38th Field Artillery Battalion is also the home of First Sergeant Queen Aza, who has the distinction of being one of the very first African-American female First Sgt. of a field artillery unit. She currently serves as the senior enlisted leader of the 333rd Forward Targeting Acquisition Battery, 1st Batt., 38th FA Regt.

The "Steel" Battalion is proud to have a multiplicity of outstanding female Soldiers, NCOs and officers within their ranks, all of whom contribute greatly to the excellence, leadership and success of the unit.

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