Military News

Friday, July 20, 2012

Face of Defense: Former WACs Recall Their Army Journeys

By Army Spc. Charlotte Martinez
345th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

FORT HUNTER LIGGETT, Calif., July 20, 2012 – When you picture a soldier today, the image of either a man or a woman in uniform may come to mind. Forty years ago, that picture wasn’t as diverse.

Two female soldiers, who joined up during the mid-1970s when Army women served in an entirely separate branch, recounted their experiences and how they overcame challenges as the Army transitioned into today’s force.

“I was the first in a lot of things, but I wasn’t trying to prove anything. I just happened to be in that spot at that time in history and didn’t know it,” said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Grace Davidson, a Harrisburg, Ark., native who joined the Army in April 1975.

At the conclusion of the Vietnam War, the role for women in the Army began evolving from serving in an all-female Women’s Army Corps to becoming members of a gender-integrated force.

“I was still at home and out of high school and had to do something so my parents said, ‘You need to go to college,’ But I really didn’t know what I wanted to do or what I wanted to major in -- in life,” said Army Sgt. 1st Class Verdean Miller, an Albuquerque, N.M. native, and assistant noncommissioned officer-in-charge of personnel and administration with the 90th Sustainment Brigade, based out of North Little Rock, Ark.

Miller, who joined the Army two months after Davidson in June 1975, said she was sitting in class at Arkansas Agricultural, Mechanical & Normal College at Pine Bluff, now known as the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, one very hot summer day when she decided that after class, she would talk to a recruiter and take the placement test to join the military.

Although she gave all the service branches an initial thought, Miller had participated in Army ROTC at the university and ultimately chose the Army. She left for basic training at Fort McClellan, Ala., in January 1976. Miller said she knew then she would serve for 20 years.

Davidson said she joined the Army because she wanted to further her high school education and receive the Vietnam-era GI Bill. She signed up for the WAC when she was 17 and left for basic after turning 18. Davidson went to basic training at Fort Jackson, S.C., where she would eventually out-process from active duty into the Individual Ready Reserve.

“I initially signed up for four years. Back then, women didn’t have to do the eight-year commitment like they do now,” said Davidson, currently an information systems technician with the 90th Sustainment Brigade. She extended a year and served five years on active duty.

For Davidson and Miller, basic training was completely separated from men; unlike today’s integrated basic training in which men and women train together, yet live in separate quarters.

The Women’s Army Corps, created during World War II, disbanded in 1978.

“They were slowly integrating us into the regular Army, and when the WAC went away it just kind of disappeared, faded away. You almost didn’t know it went away,” Davidson said. “They had just started teaching women to fire an M-16 and that was interesting. I had never fired a rifle before and I fired expert. Probably because I didn’t know any different and did exactly what they told me to do.”

Miller said, “I began to meet other young ladies coming from all walks of life. It was a very interesting experience. Because coming up, I really didn’t deal with other races of people before because the neighborhood I lived in was all black, the university I went to was all black, so every now and then I would come in contact [with people from different racial backgrounds] but not like I did when I first came into the Army.”

After basic training, Davidson went to Fort Devens, Mass., for school to become an electronic warfare/intercept systems repairman, while Miller went to Fort Benjamin Harrison, Ind., to become a personnel management specialist.

Davidson, who spent five years on active duty, said while she was out-processing at Fort Jackson, a recruiter recommended she join the IRR so she could re-enlist later if she wanted. Davidson met her husband during her five years of active-Army service and they had two small sons at the time she left active duty.

“When I went to Germany, I was the first woman in my unit,” said Davidson, who served in Idar-Oberstein, Germany, during her active-duty status. “They had never had a woman in that unit before. My platoon sergeant didn’t like that idea very much. I was in the 8th Infantry Division. We were in the field all the time. It wasn’t easy, but I had decided I was going to pull my weight and I told them if I can’t pull my weight, get rid of me and I meant it.”

Davidson, who has three grown sons who have served overseas as well, said she hid her first pregnancy for as long as possible because she did not want to let down her team members and company, and would continue to do as much as she could until they would not let her go to the field anymore.

“At that time, if you were a female with a family and your husband was also a soldier, if you got out, that was it. They wouldn’t take you back if you had a family,” Davidson said. “So [joining the IRR] was the best thing I ever did because I wouldn’t have been able to come back.”

After being in the IRR a little over a year and after her third son was born, Davidson said she missed the Army and decided to join the Army Reserve as a radio-teletype or “RATT-Rig operator,” a military occupational specialty which doesn’t exist anymore, she said. Davidson would earn the rank of sergeant, which was referred to as a “buck sergeant.”

“There was no accession for a ‘RATT-Rig’ operator in my unit, so I became an ammunition inspector, 55 X-Ray. Then, that’s how I became a warrant officer,” she said. “I did that for several years and we had a couple of warrant officer vacancies in our unit and I applied for warrant officer and I got my bar.”

Miller, on the other hand, remained on active duty for 12 years and in that time she became both a drill sergeant and an airborne instructor for the Army. She’d served nearly twelve and a half years when her parents became severely ill. Miller joined the Army Reserve in 1998 after a 10-year break in service, after her sister moved back home and told her she could finish her 20 years.

“When I joined the Reserve, they needed drill sergeants again,” Miller said. “As a reservist, I continued my drill sergeant status at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.”

Miller said she did not always agree with the male/female integrated training concept and believed that male drill sergeants should train male recruits while female drill sergeants trained female recruits during basic training. Afterward, she said, the two genders could come together to train during Advanced Individual Training.

“I have always talked to the females [in the training] platoons and said be proud of who you are. You have worked hard to get where you need to go,” Miller said of her time as a drill sergeant. “You don’t have to lower your standards to get to where you need to go. You should work hard and study hard to excel in life.”

Both women would continue their Army Reserve careers, eventually serving together in Balad, Iraq, from 2009 to 2010 with the 90th SB. They have continued to work with each other in that unit since.

“Joining the military … was one of the best things I ever did in my life,” Miller said. “Staying in was even better because now I’m looking at 26-27 years [of military service] and I am getting close to retirement and I just don’t see how a person can go wrong.”

“It is just amazing the stuff that I’ve learned,” said Davidson, speaking about the benefits of her nearly 40 years of military service. “People think I am so smart, but it is my soldiers who are smarter and they make me look smart. The training I’ve gotten has been great and my retirement is going to be really good.”

Both Davidson and Miller aren’t sure when they will retire, but they hope to leave a positive influence behind for the younger troops.

“Being in the military is like anything else,” Miller said. “Like a job, you have to discipline yourself and in order to advance you have to seek education, you have to seek knowledge.”

“Everyone is important, even if you don’t have a lot of ‘hero badges,’” Davidson said. “I think that’s important for people to remember. That’s what I have done my whole career mostly, is just let people be able to communicate, and that’s an important thing. I might not have a chest full of ribbons and badges, but I feel like I have done my part.”

Carl Vinson Hosts 'Boots on the Deck'

By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class (SW/AW) Luke B. Meineke, USS Carl Vinson Public Affairs

CORONADO, Calif. (NNS) -- Naval Aviation Enterprise (NAE) representatives visited USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) as part of a process improvement program known as "Boots on the Deck" (BoD), July 18.

BoD was crafted to give first-hand maintenance and supply work center knowledge to senior leaders of NAE provider commands, addressing processing and production.

Insights or issues viewed from the perspective of fleet Sailors were passed on to the provider commands as data for Continuous Process Improvement (CPI) and the AIRSpeed program.

Commander Naval Air Forces Vice Adm. Allen Myers; Executive Director for the Program Executive Officer, Aircraft Carriers, William Deligne of the Senior Executive Service; Commander Naval Supply Weapons Systems Support Rear Adm. John G. King; and Commander NAVAIR 6.0 Rear Adm. (Sel) C.J. Jaynes were some of the distinguished visitors who boarded Carl Vinson for the event.

During the visit's opening brief, Deputy Director of NAE Mike Warriner explained the command's mission to advance and sustain naval aviation's war-fighting capabilities at an affordable cost today and in the future. He also referenced naval aviation as central to the Navy's six core capabilities: forward presence, deterrence, sea control, maritime security, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, and power projection.

"It's important that we keep that [idea] up front and understand it is about the recumbent effects of all six of those core capabilities," Warriner said. Underneath that, he added, NAE looks for the approach that maximizes efficiency and affordability while resolving interdependent naval aviation issues affecting multiple stakeholders.

After the initial briefing, Vinson's Commanding Officer Capt. Kent D. Whalen, Vinson's Executive Officer Cmdr. Paul C. Spedero, and NAE representatives toured six Aviation Intermediate Maintenance Department (AIMD) and Supply Department spaces.

The first part of the morning was spent discussing both NAE and shipboard program managers' perspectives and developing ways to improve maintenance and supply business practices. Afterward, BoD provided the unique opportunity for naval aviation leadership to converse on a one-on-one basis with enlisted Sailors who had an intimate knowledge of the successes and issues of their work centers, said Jaynes.

"[Today's visit] gave us the opportunity to talk to the Sailors directly and find out what challenges they are facing and how we can help them," Jaynes said. "This is really our only opportunity to come face-to-face, on the deckplates, and find out how we can help and directly impact the challenges that they are facing."
Carl Vinson Sailors who presented each space represented themselves, their work centers and Carl Vinson admirably, Myers said.

"The most junior Sailors - and these are kids that came into the Navy 18 months ago [and] have only been on board 10 or 12 months - they were advocates for Naval Aviation Enterprise and they were able to articulate ways they can make their work centers more effective," Myers said. "They knew their business, they knew their mission, and they also knew how to talk about the enterprise in a way that impressed their supervisors and leadership. And we're taking that back with us - that the culture of efficiency is alive and well on the Carl Vinson."

The visit ended with a debriefing in which NAE representatives and Carl Vinson leadership started addressing issues generated during the visit and ways to implement the successful programs developed on board Carl Vinson in the rest of the fleet.

During the debriefing, Myers emphasized that a chief purpose of BoD and the NAE is to focus on creating a culture of efficiency from the most junior Sailor to the most senior leader.

"If naval aviation is about war-fighting, then the NAE is about making that war-fighting more capable, more efficient and more effective," Myers said. "To see the faces of the people who are actually doing the work, and in this case to see the enthusiasm, is really rewarding."

Myers added the visit to Carl Vinson showed him firsthand that young Sailors actually understand the goodness of a culture of efficiency and are employing it.

"These kids wanted to make their work centers more efficient and more effective," Myers said. "When they are that mission-focused - when they are that focused on making war-fighting more effective and more capable - then I think we are where we need to be."

Carter: Guam Central to Asia-Pacific Strategy

By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service

ABOARD A MILITARY AIRCRAFT, July 20, 2012 – Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter said after his meetings with Guamanian and military leaders over the past two days, he is more convinced than ever that Guam has a central role to play in the strategic rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region.

The deputy secretary left Guam today en route to Japan, the next stop on his 10-day Asia-Pacific tour that will continue with visits to Thailand, India and South Korea.

“The insights I was able to gather during this visit [to Guam] reinforce the department’s optimism that our plan is achievable and in line with our strategic priority of maintaining security and stability in the Asia-Pacific region,” Carter said.

A senior defense official traveling with the deputy secretary told American Forces Press Service on background that during the Guam visit Carter wanted to convey to Guamanian leaders his optimism that the planned Marine Corps relocation from Okinawa “is in a much better place than it was even six months ago.”

The processes involved in implementing the plan, including coordination with the Japanese government and Congressional authorization, “all seem to be coming together,” the official said.

Carter discussed a number of issues with Guamanian leaders including Governor Eddie Baza Calvo and Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo. During those meetings, the official said, Carter spoke about the steps involved in the planned Marine Corps buildup on Guam.

Current plans call for moving roughly 4,800 Marines to the island, rather than the 8,000 originally projected, the official noted. About two-thirds of those who relocate to Guam will do so on a rotational basis, which means a smaller permanent-party presence and thus a smaller number of accompanying family members than earlier planned, he explained.

A smaller Marine presence means less military construction of community-support facilities such as schools and childcare centers will be needed on Guam, the official said.

The Marines will need land for cantonment, housing and training sites, including live-fire weapons training, the official said. Previous environmental impact studies have determined enough federally-owned land and undeveloped acreage is available on Guam to support training, housing and headquarters requirements, he added.

“The reason we have to do a supplemental environmental impact study, kind of counter-intuitively, is that because the footprint will be smaller, some areas that were not looked at with the bigger footprint have to be studied to see if they are possible,” the official said.

Carter took a helicopter tour of possible sites today. The official said defense leaders are working now to place Marine Corps facilities where they will cause the least possible inconvenience to the island’s residents.

“We don’t want to set up a situation where Marine cantonment is on the far end of the island, with the live-fire training on the opposite end of the island, therefore creating a lot of additional traffic on the local roads,” he added.

Sites for air combat element operations, waterfront operations, and non-live-fire training have already been identified in previous studies and won’t change, the official noted.

“The Marine aviation element is going to go on the north ramp at Andersen [Air Force Base], the waterfront operations will be at Apra Harbor [Naval Station], and Andersen south will be used for non-live-fire training,” he said.

“[Carter] also made the point that the Marine Corps buildup is only part of the story for the military on Guam,” the official said. “We have significant activities at Andersen Air Force Base and Apra Harbor [Naval Base] that also demonstrate the strategic nature of Guam.”

Guam is the westernmost part of the United States and also part of Asia, the official noted.

“[There is] a special strategic meaning to having American territory out here in Asia,” he added.

The official said that during meetings with Carter, Calvo and Bordallo raised topics including visa-waiver approval for Chinese tourists and National Guard funding.

The governor also expressed concern about the impact the Marine Corps relocation will have on Guam’s infrastructure, the official said.

“He made the point that the people of Guam are strongly supportive of this move,” the official added. “They’re patriotic Americans, but they are concerned that their infrastructure deficiencies are also addressed as part of this realignment.”

The governor specifically mentioned fresh water, waste water, and power supply and distribution as sensitive areas in the island’s infrastructure, the official said. He added that Calvo also noted positive developments in port improvements and defense access roads, both of which are largely federally funded.

In response to the governor’s concerns, the official said, Carter explained additional environmental studies are planned to determine what effect a smaller Marine force will have on the island, and what new sites for relocation might support the decreased “footprint” required to support those Marines. Those studies will “delay significant construction for a couple of years,” the official said.

The deputy secretary’s visit demonstrates U.S. leaders’ determination to develop strategic rhetoric into reality here in the Pacific, the official said.

“He’s here not only to convey that message, but to hear from the people out here, throughout his trip, on what the rebalance means to them, and make sure we do it right,” the official added.

Carter also met with U.S. military leaders on Guam during his visit, the official said, and listened to their concerns relating to the strategy shift.

Navy Rear Adm. Paul Bushong, Air Force Brig. Gen. Steve Garland, and other Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force leaders stationed on Guam shared their perspectives on service priorities there with the deputy secretary, the official said.