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March 8, 2013

Women who aren’t afraid of heights or fights

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Christine Phillips, 820th Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineers Airborne from Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., has her parachute harness tightened during a T-11 parachute training class Feb. 21 at Fort Bragg, N.C. The T-11 parachute is a bigger parachute than the 820th RED HORSE Airmen are used to using.

Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. — With women now allowed to pursue combat related career fields, the first notion is that women have not participated in combat related duties whatsoever. But in reality this isn’t the first time women have been put in the line of fire.

During an airborne training exercise at Fort Bragg, N.C., female airborne engineers are taking part in combat training parachute jumps that simulate the seizure of a foreign runway. One of the roles is RED HORSE Airborne.

Expectations for male and female airborne members are set to an equal standard.

“In my eyes, no, I’m not treated any better or worse than any Soldier in the company,” said U.S. Army 1st Sgt. Bianka Lathan, 161st Engineer Support Company. “I have just always been expected to perform as the same as my [male] counterparts.”

The strength and endurance it takes to be a part of an airborne unit isn’t a walk in the park for anyone. Physically demanding tasks such as carrying heavy packs, weapons and rucking after landing from a parachute jump are tasks airborne engineers must be able to complete whether they are male or female.

“For sure women need to be held to the same physical standards as men, in case we have to pull one of them or carry the same equipment,” said said Staff Sgt. Christine Phillips, 820th RED HORSE engineer craftsman. “I am able to run just like they run, I can ruck just as long as they can, I don’t hold them up.”

Not only do these women carry the weight of work and family, they also deal with the pressure and expectations they place on themselves.

“Being the first female, 1st Sgt. for the 161st Engineer Support Company, I want to ensure I do everything I’m supposed to do at a high level so there isn’t any doubt,” Lathan said, “Recently, at Jump Master School, I felt a lot of pressure to make sure I completed the school on my first time, but it was really just me putting [the pressure] on myself.”

With the ban of women in combat lifted, women will now be able to pursue the same combat career paths as men in the military.

“It is a great opportunity; I feel there are many strong women who can perform at any level,” Phillips said.

“I have been in for 19 years and [have] seen the changes for women’s equality and I feel this opportunity is something women have been fighting for a very long time to be able to do,” Lathan said.

“Having women in airborne units might not be smooth all the time, but being given the same opportunity as a man has given hardworking women the chance to prove to themselves and others that they can reach and achieve the same goals as their male counterpart,” Phillips said.

 




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