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Introductions: The Successes and Failures of a Female Soldier

written by Jessica Scott
on February 17, 2010

The photo on my first driver's license listed my height at 5 foot 6 inches and 183 pounds. Not exactly soldier-in-the-making material. But the fastest way to get me to do something is tell me I can't. So when the U.S. Army said, "Thanks, but no thanks," I was in. I buckled down, lost 15 pounds, and squeaked into military service in August 1995.

jessica_18.jpg

Jessica Scott (center) with her parents on the day she joined the army.

Weight loss wasn't the only reason I joined. I was 18, an average student and no idea what to do when I grew up. I came from blue collar, working class parents who gave me the best gift a parent could: they told me to do what I wanted, so long as I was happy. So I did it — I joined the army. Today, I'm a career army officer and have a BA in Cultural Studies, and an MS in Telecommunications Management. The best part? I'm happy.

When I joined the army at 18, I didn't know if it was going to make me happy, but I figured: what the hell — I'd sign up for 4 years and if I didn't like it, I could pack my bags and head off to college somewhere.

Four years turned into 15, enlisting turned into commissioning and fat turned into reasonably fit. I'll be the first one to admit that my reasons for joining the army were purely selfish. My reasons for staying, however, are not the same as my reasons for joining. In serving around the world, in Germany, Fort Hood, Korea and then Iraq, I learned about myself as a soldier first, as a woman second. I am who I am today because I joined and because I stayed.

While I've always been opinionated, being in the army taught me to temper my opinions with tact and a little bit of patience. I'm still learning those lessons, though. Trust me, they're tough to learn, especially for me. I've always spoken my mind, but I do so now from a seat of much more experience, in life and inthe army. Back when I was starting in the army, there were things about the institution that I didn't understand as a soldier. Now, as an officer, I make a point to explain those things to the soldiers serving under me, especially when I make a decision that's different from what the recommend. Of course, I've made mistakes too. I've made lieutenant mistakes that I did not expect to make because I was senior enlisted, but I try to learn from them and grow.

On the family front, my transition to being a mother has been especially challenging, and I've had it better than most army women. I've learned that my very directing way of doing things doesn't necessarily work with children (which should come as no surprise). As a mom, I try to focus on what's important and not so much on the silly stuff. I want my kids to always know they're loved, which is a hard thing to communicate via Skype. I left my youngest when she was 6 months old to attend Officer Candidate School. I've been gone for a year and a half of the three years she's been alive. My husband is also in the military, and he has missed three years out of our oldest daughter's five years. I worry about the long-term impact of our absences from their lives, but I can't dwell on it. I just try to make the most of every day, because you never know what tomorrow holds. This is a lesson I had to learn regardless of whether I'm in combat or not. Being in Iraq showed me just how short life really is. It truly is the little things that are important.

I joined the army because I didn't know what to do with my life. I stay because I believe I can have an impact on an organization that has changed tremendously since I first raised my right hand and swore to serve my country. Today, I'm the company executive officer for a signal company in a brigade combat team. In the past, I've worked several different levels as an officer, having been a platoon leader and a communications officer for Brigade S6. Those different jobs have given me the ability to see a broader picture, one that goes beyond my single company, and I hope that broad perspective helped make me a stronger officer. I do my best at whatever I'm doing, but sometimes, that best is tempered by being a mom. The competing requirements of being an officer and being a mom are a difficult juggling act, one that I, like every army mom, struggle with.

I am not going to tell you the Army isn't without its flaws, but I am not going to be one of the Army's detractors. In the next few months on Regarding War, I will tell you about my experiences, which may or may not reflect other women's experiences. Some have had it harder. Some have been victims of sexual assault and abuse and of a system that, if they allow it, will set them to the side.

That is not my story. In every unit I have served in, I have been part of the team because I have gone into situations believing I can be part of the team and knowing that I had to work harder to prove myself because of the breasts I carry beneath my uniform. I have not always succeeded, but I believe those failings — those lessons — were not because I was a woman. They were my lessons to be learned as a soldier.

A friend of mine once said that there are female soldiers, and then there are females who happen to be soldiers. Over the course of this blog, I will explain the difference, because I believe there is one. My experience in the Army has been largely positive. Almost all the challenges I've faced have been as a soldier, and not as a woman. At least, that is what I believe. I'll tell you about my challenges as an army mom, the on- going balancing act between mommy and soldier that I struggle with and never fully understood until I saw that thin pink line for myself.

My posts here are my experiences and my opinions. Nothing here should be taken as official policy for the U.S. Army or the United States government. I am not a spokeswoman for either. I speak only for myself, and to give voice to my experiences as a soldier who happens to be a woman, a wife and a mom.

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