Maj. Lisa Jaster
In the 1970s, a California educational task force initiated the idea of dedicating one week a year to celebrating women's history. By 1987 it had grown into such a phenomenon across America that at the request of the National Women's History Project, Congress extended the week into a month and issued a resolution declaring that March be Women's History Month. A special presidential proclamation is issued each year to renew this resolution.
Focused on highlighting trailblazing women "who have paved the way for future generations," the 36th Signal Battalion, in coordination with the Area IV Equal Opportunity office, hosted its annual Women's History Month Observance at the Camp Henry theater, March 28.
This year's theme is honoring women who challenge roles in both business and the workforce. With combat arms roles only recently being opened to females across the U.S. Army, there are a limited number of women who can speak to what it means to not only challenge these roles, but succeed at doing so. Maj. Lisa Jaster is one of them.
In October 2015, Jaster became the first female reserve officer to graduate from the U.S. Army Ranger School and only the third female in history to successfully complete the course. A mother of two and wife to a Marine Corps officer, Jaster works as a full-time project manager for a major oil company. She is no stranger to serving in a leadership capacity that allows her to not only lead but influence her peers and subordinates.
"If you want to build up and support your peers then the best way to do that is to become their cheerleader and also tell them when they are failing, be that honest feedback," said Jaster.
Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a trailblazer as "one that blazes a trail to guide others." Throughout history, women have continued to seek opportunities that allow them to do just that. However, being a trailblazer does not come without its challenges. Negative perceptions of women are displayed across media outlets on a regular basis and directed at women, who like Jaster, have succeeded at overcoming mental and physical obstacles in order to make history.
"Standing in front of people and saying this is me, this is what I can do, let me do it next to you, let me show you what I can do, changes people's minds," said Jaster. "It might be a slow change, because it is a cultural change but it happens if you can be there and actually lead from the front."
After graduating from Ranger School, Jaster returned home and made a quick transition to what was seen as normalcy in her routine. Nevertheless, she soon found herself with a voice she never expected to have.
"Monday through Friday I am still a project manager who works for an oil company, who [has] two kids, a husband and a house to take care of," said Jaster. "When I have an opportunity to speak to younger people, or anyone, I suddenly have a voice and I get to portray a message."
Through her new found platform, Jaster developed a hashtag to promote a powerful message to encourage everyone to "#deletetheadjective." The meaning behind the hashtag is instead of identifying as a female, male, white, black, gay or straight soldier, remove the adjective and simply identify as a soldier.
"What I have found is that diversity is critical but the best way to get diversity is by getting the best possible teammates you can," explained Jaster. "That means let's look at their actual resume, their competencies, their capabilities. Let's not look at the packaging that those capabilities come in."
Breaking barriers and blazing trails may look easy from the outside, but according to Jaster you cannot be successful without a key ingredient: passion.
"You can't graduate from Ranger School because your sergeant told you that you should go to ranger school," shared Jaster. "You have to go because you want to be the best leader you could possibly be. It has to be your passion, you have to follow it and you have to be all in."
There are only so many opportunities left to be the first and it is not every day that an opportunity allowing service members to make history comes along. Being the first can be intimidating. Many times it is easier to allow others to lead the way in order to establish a status quo. Even Jaster, who had encountered frustration on more than one occasion in her career at not being able to attend the same courses as her male counterparts, considered if she should jump at the opportunity to attend Ranger school or not. She knew she would regret the decision if she did not attend.
"For me, being part of history, at least in this environment, was if I didn't go and no woman passed, what would happen?" said Jaster. "It wasn't what if I didn't pass or if somebody else passed, but I had all of these demons that I was dealing with, wanting to be the same as my peers who could go to Ranger school. What if I had an opportunity to change that and I let that opportunity pass because I thought somebody younger could have done it? I didn't want to have that regret."
The next class to graduate Ranger school includes two female graduates. These women will become number four and five as they continue to normalize what was once an achievement inaccessible to women.
Lt. Col. Erik E. Koenig, 36th Signal Battalion commander, presents U.S. Army Reserve Maj. Lisa Jaster with a framed certificate of appreciation. The 36th Signal Battalion, in coordination with the Area IV Equal Opportunity Office, hosted its annual Women's History Month observance at the Camp Henry theater, March 28, 2017. (Photo Credit: Cpl. Jae Hyung Sin)