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NEWS | March 21, 2014

First female National Guard Soldiers graduate Field Artillery School

By Sgt. Leticia Samuels North Carolina National Guard

FORT BRAGG, N.C. - Army Spcs. Nicol Vargas, Veronica Kramer, Autumn Aderhold and Brandy Brasted all graduated from the Artillery School at the 139th Regimental Training Institute at Fort Bragg, N.C., March 19, 2014.

“I have to do what I have to do to get done with the mission,” Vargas says. “All this time working on the HIMARS (High Mobility Artillery Rocket System), and every time it has been like a fresh new experience.”

Each of these female Soldiers are from different states and are the first National Guard members to complete the male-dominated Artillery School, but will definitely not be the last.

“They're excited, they're motivated, determined to learn, they're asking more questions than a normal student would.They have very positive attitudes,” said Kevin Hale, 139th RTI Field Artillery Instructor.

These 10 students attending the class all have alternate military occupational specialties (MOS), but have all decided that they would like to be more incorporated into operational experiences and what better way to do that then to go through a reclassification course.

“It’s something different and more fun, we were behind the desk and we wanted to get out there and do something better, we're active!” Aderhold and Bradsted both said.

This 18-day course gives students 40 hours of classroom time to explain all the concepts, theories, and mechanics of a Multiple Launch Rocket System crewmember (MLRS). The course is designed to equip students with the knowledge of how to calculate locations manually and electronically, the proper way to handle ammunition, operate gun, missile, and rocket systems, along with artillery tactics and battle strategies.

“The ladies have been able to complete any and everything that has been asked of them,” Hale said.

This occupation primarily focuses on supporting infantry and tank units while supplementing cannon artillery in combat. The other 120 hours of this course are all hands-on training and allow students actual time with the vehicles to put all of the classroom concepts into place.

“It was a lot when we started, but now it’s not nearly as much as they made us think it was,” Kramer said. “Hands on training is always so much better,” Aderhold said.

Service members have to maintain, supervise and operate the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), the newest wheeled chassis light version of the MLRS that carries a single six-pack of rockets or one ATACMS missile on the Army's family of Medium Tactical Vehicles (FMTV) five-ton truck, and can launch the entire MLRS family of munitions.

“I like downloading the truck, but I like running the HIMARS too,” said Kramer.

M270-A1 Self Propelled Loader Launcher is the tracked version of the M142 and can be operated with the same techniques and can launch up to 12 rockets in less than 60 seconds. To operate these massive systems, crews work in orders of three (the driver, gunner and the section chief), but during training all cross train in each area to gain experience doing all three jobs needed in this three-man crew.

“You soldiers sitting in these seats are the future of the National Guard,” said Command Sgt. Maj. John Swart, North Carolina National Guard Command senior enlisted leader. “It’s important that we work as a team.”

Students are also taught how to establish launcher resupply and supply points because soldiers are responsible for pods of ammunition and also have to be able to resupply their own ammunition along with other artillery elements in the field.

Field Artillery has been a part of the armed forces since the early 1900s and has been male-dominated along with various other jobs until 1942 when the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) was created in recognition of women officially being accepted into the armed forces. Over the years women have started to become more accepted into all aspects of the military and are now held to the same standards as their male counterparts.

“I love it all the way! And the males are so accepting; it takes them a little bit to come around but after you're there for a bit they don’t treat you any differently and I love that they don’t treat us any different,” Vargas and Kramer both said.

These four female Soldiers along with other female Soldiers across the U.S. have added to the stepping stone being used to push aside any barriers to women performing male-dominated jobs.

“The guys have accepted them into the field artillery world and they work well as a team as one Army as it should be,” Hale said.