FORT HOOD — Three soldiers joined the Army for adventure, only to become the first women to serve as fire direction specialists in the field artillery branch, following the Defense Department’s decision to open combat roles to women this year.
Pvt. Anika Degraff, Pfc. Melissa Czarnogursky and Pvt. Larissa Schwerin reported to 2nd Battalion, 20th Field Artillery Regiment, 41st Fires Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, in early November.
Upon joining the unit, the soldiers immediately embarked on a 10-day field training exercise, quickly assimilating with their peers.
“I didn’t expect to be so welcomed,” Degraff said. “People knew our names before we knew (theirs).”
The women said they enjoyed experiencing the practical application of their jobs in the first month at their duty station.
“There’s been a great emphasis to train us as any other soldier,” Czarnogursky said.
Despite the fact that many people she trained alongside at basic training did not know this specialty was open to women, there’s been no negativity from fellow soldiers, she said.
Fire direction specialists are responsible for relaying fire missions by operating a multiple launch rocket system, resulting in missile launches.
Following basic training, Degraff, Czarnogursky and Schwerin were three of four women in their advanced individual training class at Fort Sill, Okla.
In fiscal year 2013, a total of 13 females graduated in this military occupational specialty.
“When I heard about (the specialty), it sounded exciting,” Degraff said. “I wanted to try something new.”
There’s been a great deal of positivity and support for the women, both within their unit and from their families.
“I love my country, so it was a sense of pride to join,” Czarnogursky said.
Both Degraff and Czarnogursky come from families with prior military service.
“I don’t see us as any different than our male counterparts,” Degraff said. She doesn’t know why her position was previously closed off to females. Czarnogursky echoed Degraff’s sentiments.
“There are challenging parts of the job but nothing that females aren’t capable of doing,” she said.
As for any deployments on the horizon, the new soldiers are looking forward to the opportunities.
“I’m very excited to go to a different country and experience different cultures,” Degraff said. “When you sign up for the military, you know it’s a possibility.”
Despite the publicity from being the first females to take on this role in the field artillery branch, Degraff, Czarnogursky and Schwerin don’t see themselves as different from their fellow soldiers.
Still, they hope their success will lead to more opportunities for women in the military, they said, citing Special Forces units.
“It can be frustrating, because we’re just trying to do our jobs,” Czarnogursky said. “But down the road, maybe we’ll see a domino effect.”
The women are proud to be part of a new movement for women in the military.
In the Army, you put your differences aside for a bigger goal, Degraff said.
“In my mind, we put on the same uniform. You have to think past the male-female thing.”