About She's A Pioneer For Women In Military
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She's A Pioneer For Women In Military info
December 3, 2006 Sunday Conversation
By John W. Gonzalez, Houston Chronicle
Twenty-seven years after joining the National Guard, Brig. Gen. Joyce Stevens of Tomball became the first female general officer in the Texas Army National Guard on Oct. 14. She's one of seven Guard generals in Texas, serving as deputy commander. The 47-year-old native of Blackfoot, Idaho, has lived in Texas for 25 years. In addition to mobilizing for Houston-area floods, Stevens was deployed to Afghanistan for a year and oversees training for Guard members assisting the U.S. Border Patrol. San Antonio bureau chief John W. Gonzalez talked with Stevens last month while she was there.
Q: Your story may be an inspiration for some young women. That must be interesting for you.
A: It is. It makes me want to do my job better. My mother was probably my role model for success. She was a "Rosie the Riveter" during World War II. She worked on an air base in San Diego where they took destroyed planes and stripped the good instruments out so they could put them in new planes. And my dad was at Pearl Harbor, and that's where they met. He was in the Navy.
My mother had a very strict work ethic. She said, "Volunteer for everything. Always do more than they ask you to do. And try to understand not just your job but the jobs that are around you." I just try to do those things.
My goal really never was to be a general officer. When I was getting into the Officer Candidate School program I wanted to stay enlisted. At the time there weren't that many female officers that set an example, and that may have been why I steered toward the enlisted side.
Some people really start out with a goal in their mind. I didn't have that goal, and each time that I've been promoted, it just felt like it was the next logical step.
Q: It's competitive for anybody to get to your position, but how did the added dimension of being female factor in?
A: I really consider the women that went into the service during World War II and later as breaking ground. When I went in in 1979, they had just started to integrate men and women in training. That was breaking ground. It's one of the best things that the Army did. It's the norm now. People say, "Oh, a woman," but the groundbreaking was way before I came.
Q: But you must have a knack for leadership.
A: I think that is probably my strength. I love people, and I know that in the Army, your people are your best resource. ... When I was a battalion commander, I lucked into a battalion that had a lot of good people in it. The battalion was very successful, which obviously made me successful. When I was a brigade commander, the people were even better than at the battalion. It was the unit I took to Afghanistan.
Q: What kind of reaction have you gotten from soldiers, especially females?
A: I get a positive reaction. They see me as a successful woman, and that gives them hope that if they do the things I did to try to succeed, they can do that as well. But it's getting very common to have senior women in the military.
Q: Is the Army wide open to females?
A: No. Legally, there are certain branches that do not allow women — infantry, armor — but there are still women in those different areas. There are certainly female MPs in Iraq and Afghanistan. They're out there doing patrols right alongside the men. The logistician females who drive the trucks back and forth and deliver supplies a lot of time are in combat, but we are not in combat specialities like the infantry.
Q: When you enlisted, did you have a civilian career also?
A: I didn't. That was one of the reasons I joined the military. I had taken some college classes, but I was a little frustrated because I didn't really know what direction I wanted to go. I thought joining the Army would be a great idea. It would get me out, because I was raised in a small town. And I wanted to see more of the world to figure out what I wanted to do.
My sister was very concerned. She's a little older than I am. She said, "Don't join the Army. Join the National Guard. If you hate it, you only have to do it one weekend a month and two weeks a year. And if you love it, you can always go active duty."
Q: Describe your experience in Afghanistan.
A: If we can just hang in there with them until they get on their feet, Afghanistan can be a success story. I'm hoping. The people are tired of war. They want education. They want infrastructure. When I first got there I was almost ashamed of all the blessings that I have compared to them. No electricity. No running water. Mud houses. Dirt floors. People say it's a Third World country, but they're starting from scratch.
There was one group, maybe a couple of groups — mainly the mullahs, their holy men — that didn't accept me well. I got a lot of strange looks. I'm a giant (5 feet 10 inches) compared to them. With my boots, I'm taller than that ... and then a woman on top of that. But generally they were very, very friendly and really respectful and pretty accepting.
Q: Do you have any special assignments coming?
A: In addition to the duties of the deputy commander on the Army side, I'll have a big role in the all-hazards operations plan, which is how to respond to natural disasters, hurricanes, fires, floods and man-made disasters if we have terrorists attack.
Q: Could you possibly achieve a higher rank?
A: I think I can make two-star. I don't think anything's a given. I would have to continue to do a good job, because there are one-stars I'd be in competition with, so to speak.