STEAD – With her slight build and soft-spoken mannerisms, former high school cheerleader Pvt. Brittany Sears seems an unlikely candidate to become the Nevada Army Guard’s first woman to hold a combat-occupation role in a front-line unit.
But Sears, who began her quest to become a combat engineer (12B military occupation specialty) for the 609th Engineer Company in Fallon when she left for basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., determinedly stated she’s rugged enough to hold a combat job in the Army.
She realizes she’s the first Nevada Army Guard female Soldier to attempt to pass a combat course, but it’s a fact she doesn’t dwell upon.
“I like a challenge and am nervous, but I really don’t feel like a pioneer,” said Sears before departing for basic training. “I’m excited to begin the process, but not too worried about being a female soldier in the courses.
“I expect to be treated no differently than any other Soldier; so far, I’ve always been treated fairly.”
Sears, 18, of Virginia City Highlands, graduated from Galena High in Reno this past spring. At Galena, she participated in ROTC for four years (instructed by retired Chief Warrant Officer 5 David Anderson) and could also be seen on the sidelines cheering on the Grizzly athletic teams.
“The only ‘girly’ thing I’ve done in my life was cheerleading,” Sears said. “I’ve grown up immersed in a ‘boyish-type’ lifestyle.”
Judging from her family’s military pedigree, Sears has a good chance of graduating from her combat courses. Her mother is Nevada Army Guard Maj. Tammy Sparkes, the administrative officer for the 757th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, and her father is Daniel Sears, a Marine Corps veteran whose career included a stint at The Pentagon.
“There is military tradition within our family,” Sears said. “My mom is tough as nails and I like to think I take after her.”
Sgt. 1st Class Elias Perez, the Recruiting and Retention Detachment’s senior drill instructor, said Sears is a good candidate to become the state’s first combat engineer because “she has the will and determination that a lot of young Soldiers don’t possess.” He said she has a good chance of passing the course but also doesn’t mince his comments about the difficult training she will experience.
“I have no doubt she will give (the combat engineer course) all she has, but I also know the 12B Soldiers go through some very rigorous training,” Perez said. “She will do great at basic training, but the ruck marches at a combat arms school are no joke. I was at 19D (cavalry scout) and many men were not physically capable of doing all of the training.”
Sears said she wants to become a combat engineer because she is interested in the explosive ordnance disposal branch of the Army. A combat engineer’s job includes constructing obstacles and defensive positions as well as placing and detonating explosives in combat situations. When she returns from her courses, likely in March 2017, she plans to begin applying to state universities and colleges and start work toward an engineering degree.
For now, however, the life of a college freshman seems far in the future for Sears, who has much more pressing issues such as passing the Occupational Physical Assessment Test standards for combat engineers. The OPAT measures a soldier’s ability to meet the physical requirements of their military occupation regardless of gender or age. Sears took the test on Oct. 22 and easily attained her strength deadlift and the interval aerobic run requisite scores, but she must improve her standing long jump and seated power throw marks during the next few months to become a full-fledged combat engineer.
“I realize I have to do the same scores as everyone else, but I’m not too worried yet — there are still 16 weeks left to improve,” Sears said.