Fallon’s engineer company leads charge for gender integration in combat roles | NevadaAppeal.com

Fallon’s engineer company leads charge for gender integration in combat roles

Sgt. 1st Class Erick Studenicka
Nevada Military Department

The combat engineer unit in Fallon composed of notoriously rugged soldiers is spearheading gender integration into Nevada Army Guard combat positions.

The 609th Engineer Company, commonly referred to as the Sappers, has begun a liberal trial program that allows female Soldiers to experience combat jobs without long-term obligation. The 90-soldier unit, which specializes in employing explosives for demolition and destruction, is also set to welcome the state’s first female Soldier in a combat occupation into its ranks shortly when Elizabeth Harrison completes her initial entry training.

Harrison, 26, of Carson City, is set to become a 12B combat engineer, a position closed to women until Dec. 3, 2015, when Secretary of Defense Ash Carter directed the full integration of women in the armed forces. His decision allows all Soldiers, regardless of gender, to serve in any military occupational specialty for which they are qualified. The Nevada Army Guard offers four combat jobs: 11C mortar man, the aforementioned 12B combat engineer, 19A armor officer and 19D cavalry scout. Positions for 19K armor crewman will become available in the future after the state receives its shipment of 14 M1A2 Abrams tanks later this year.

Spc. Karen Ruiz of the 150th Maintenance Company headquartered in Carson City became the first female soldier to take advantage of the 609th’s combat trial program when she drilled with the 609th the first weekend of March as a combat engineer. Ruiz received credit and compensation for her March Army Guard drill by training with the 609th in lieu of attending the 150th’s drill without having to transfer units.

The 609th trial program is primarily targeted for Soldiers in the 757th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, but any female Soldier in the state can request a trial period with their commander’s consent, said 609th commander Capt. Johannes Lamprecht. (Lt. Col. Michael Peyerl, the commander of the Nevada Army Guard’s other combat organization, the 1-221st Cavalry, said his squadron would also welcome current Nevada Army Guard female Soldiers for a similar trial period if the Soldier’s commander concurs.)

Although Harrison — if she completes her requisite occupational courses — is likely to become the first Nevada Army Guard female soldiers officially assigned a combat job, 12 female soldiers already work for Nevada’s two combat units, albeit in non-combat positions. According to the Army Guard’s personnel office, the 609th has one female medic and the 1-221st Cavalry boasts 11 women in its ranks, including two intelligence analysts, three human resources specialists, two supply sergeants and four medics.

Ruiz, 26, of Reno, said she enjoyed her drill with the Sappers, but she is undecided about her future as a combat engineer. She said all of the unit’s soldiers treated her well and, within hours, she was just another “one of the guys.” In fact, she slept in the midst of the male Soldiers in an unimproved building for the entire weekend with her amenities limited to water “buffalo” trailers and portable toilets.

“This drill was definitely exciting and different,” said Ruiz as she packed up her gear at the Fallon Armory earlier this month after spending the majority of the weekend learning how to “blow things up” while in the field at the Hawthorne Army Depot. “It was amazing. I tried a lot of new things I had never done before. It was fun.”

Lamprecht downplayed his unit’s role in advancing gender inclusion in combat positions.

“There have been co-ed units in the Army for a long time, and it’s worked out fine,” Lamprecht said. “A soldier is a Soldier. A female soldier in the 609th is not going to want preferential treatment; she just wants to blow stuff up.”