Military Women Serve Side by Side with Men

By Mark Geary, Reporter

Iowa National Guard Spec. Jennifer Hackman (left) of Cresco, Iowa, talks with Pfc. Sarah Bys of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, at Camp Shelby on Sunday, Aug. 22, 2010, near Hattiesburg, Miss. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

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By Tracey McCullough

CAMP SHELBY, Miss. - Two hundred of the 3,000 Iowa National Guard soldiers headed for Afghanistan later this year are women. About fifty of those women are Specialists, and twenty others are Captains or Lieutenants. Every day women take on new and important roles during this historic deployment.

Belief in a higher power called Martha Kester to become the Iowa National Guard’s first female chaplain.

“I don’t see myself as a woman chaplain. I see myself as a chaplain. I don’t see my soldiers as male soldiers and female soldiers. I see them as my soldiers,” Chaplain (Captain) Martha Kester said.

Private First Class Sarah Bys of the C. Medical 334 BSB and from Cedar Rapids takes pride in her Iowa National Guard job, but admits she leans on other women for support.

“Things are rough for females. They don’t make it easy for us. When we know we have that support system, it makes it much easier for us to go about our business,” Bys said.

Despite the military’s efforts to make everything equal between men and women, there are some differences. Although the U.S. government doesn’t technically allow women to fight on the front lines, many women still end up on the frontlines as medics and in other supporting roles. In addition, females also must live in separate barracks. There are, of course, some physical distinctions, too.

“Being of a smaller stature than a lot of the males, it’s generally harder for me to do certain things, but you get it done one way or another,” Spc. Eva Dziengel of the C. Company 334 BSB and from Iowa City said.

PFC Bys says the military encourages and motivates women, but still has room to improve.

“The uniforms are tailored to males. Our packing lists are tailored to males. They don’t allow a lot of extra room for our shampoos, conditioners and body wash,” Bys said.

Many women faced a lot of questions from friends and loved ones when they signed up to serve.

“People said to me, ‘A female in the military? You’re going to be a combat medic? What?’ They didn’t think I could do it. I’m proving them wrong,” Spc. Emily Keating of the C. Company 334 BSB and from Iowa City said.

Spc. Keating looks forward to educating the Afghan people about women’s rights while she is deployed in the Middle East.

“I think we will show them that women are people, too. We cry and bleed the same as men. We are capable of taking care of ourselves and getting things done,” Keating said. “I just want to show them it’s not bad for a woman to stand-up for herself, go out and get an education and want to make a living for her family.”

Lt. Col. John Perkins of the 334 BSB and from Des Moines oversees a battalion that’s twenty percent female. He says the women he supervises are no different from the men.

“Really, they’re just soldiers. I think we’ve gotten past the part of whether somebody is a male or a female or what race or creed they are,” Perkins said.

On this deployment, men outnumber women 15 to 1. Kester, Bys, Dziengel and Keating all have faith more women will enlist in the future as the military realizes the power and strength females can bring to a mission.

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