By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (July 26, 2017) -- On June 22, four women became the first female graduates of cavalry school at Fort Benning, Georgia. While the occasion is a milestone for continued gender integration in the Army, the cavalry school environment was nothing out of the ordinary for the Soldiers involved, both male and female.
As part of the effort to bring female Soldiers into combat arms career fields, the Army has worked to institute a standard set of entry and graduation qualifications to ensure an equal opportunity for all Soldiers.
Col. John Cushing, commander of the 194th Armored Brigade, reiterates that the male and female cavalry scouts who just graduated met "the same graduation standards that we have established in every previous cycle." Cushing is in charge of the training that guides these young Americans from basic Soldier to cavalry scout as part of One Station Unit Training, known as OSUT, at Fort Benning, Georgia.
In late February, 80 male and 8 female enlistees entered OSUT at Fort Benning to receive basic training. After successfully completing this first round of training, the Soldiers then moved on to training at the Armor School with the hopes of becoming cavalry scouts. It was the first time in Army history that females entered cavalry scout training.
More than 16 weeks later, 75 Soldiers, including four women, graduated as cavalry scouts.
Cushing said that there was plenty of preparation for the arrival of women at the school, including bringing in female drill instructors 18 months before the arrival of the first female students.
"Bringing on the female drill sergeants taught us a lot about our formation, a lot of good things, and certainly prepared us as we got ready for the females to show up," Cushing said.
But the training environment and course of instruction were not heavily modified, Cushing said, because leaders determined early on that training would be the same for both sexes.
"The only thing we did is that Army regulation dictates to us that we have to separate them in the barracks," he said. "So we made those changes. But beyond that, these are the only modifications we made in order to execute what we did."
"We didn't change any of the program of instruction," he said. "We didn't change any of our end-of-cycle tests, ruck march standards, weapons standards, qualification standards, none of that was changed at all."
Staff Sgt. Jordan Miller, who has been a drill sergeant at the school for 12 months now, is also an Army pharmacy specialist. She helped push both male and female Soldiers through the OSUT on their way to becoming cavalry scouts, and confirms that the training for women was no different than that for the men.
"They all had one standard to meet," she said. "And everyone got treated the same, regardless of gender. The females had to pass the Army physical fitness test, the same as the males. They all had to ruck 12 miles with 68 pounds. They all had to complete obstacles and confidence courses together. So there was no difference."
One male OSUT Soldier who went through the training said that after he saw female Soldiers perform an exercise that involved pulling a 220 pound dummy to simulate removing an injured Soldier from a combat situation, he gained confidence that the women Soldiers were just as good as the men, saying that he'd trust his life to those women to recover him if needed.
Sgt. 1st Class Alonso Deleon, himself a cavalry scout, has been in the Army for 15 years and has been a drill sergeant at the school for two years.
A cavalry scout, he said, is "basically, the eyes and ears of the commander out on the battlefield. They are responsible to collect information on the enemy, terrain, infrastructure -- whatever the commander requests -- and report that up, so the commander can make an informed decision as far as the battlefield is concerned."
To become a cavalry scout, Deleon said, students have to work together during training -- and that's what he saw happen with the students that he helped push towards graduation.
"Both of them combined, both genders," he said. "They worked together. They have to, or they wouldn't be successful in every task that was assigned to them. From my point of view, they had no issues working together at any time."
Another male OSUT Soldier who graduated from the program said that the men and women Soldiers worked together effectively -- motivating each other to succeed, he said, without concern for gender. On one of the ruck marches, he recalled how one of the female Soldiers was starting to fall out. He said he fell back to motivate her and some of the other Soldiers who were falling behind. But over the next few weeks, that same female Soldier pushed herself to do better, and became a Soldier who motivated other Soldiers to do better -- including the male Soldiers.
One of the female OSUT Soldiers who graduated as a cavalry scout said she'd first considered going in as infantry -- but changed her mind when she learned more about the cavalry. She recalled that while going through the 16-weeks of training at Fort Benning, the female and male Soldiers worked side by side to get through the course. In her experience, the female Soldiers were not treated any differently than their male counterparts. The sense of camaraderie and teamwork made her excited about her future prospects in the Army as she moves forward to her first assignment.
Currently, the Army has identified two units where gender integration will begin in earnest. Those units include a brigade within the 1st Cavalry Division, and a brigade within the 82nd Airborne Division. All four women graduating in Thursday's class at Fort Benning will go together to the 1st Cavalry Division. In those units, the Army has already placed female officers to pave the way for the follow-on female junior enlisted Soldiers.
Cushing said that probably about eight to ten female Soldiers will continue to enter each follow-on course for cavalry scouts. He also said that the Armor School is responsible for training 19K armor crew members as well. The first class of armor crew members to include female Soldiers will graduate July 19, he said.