News: Breaking the glass: Female command sergeant major breaks through barriers
Story by Sgt. Thomas Duval
FORT KNOX, Ky. - In this day and age the glass ceilings that have overshadowed women serving in the Army continue to routinely shatter.
For more than 30 years, service members have dedicated the month of March as Women’s History month and have used this time to observe the contributions and accomplishments of women throughout the different branches of the military.
Standing among those who have helped carry the torch for women on the frontlines of the U.S. Army is Command Sgt. Maj. Billie Jo Boersma, senior non-commissioned officer in charge of the Special Troops Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division.
“We [females] have never been limited to serve and defend this nation… I think the reason we join the military as females or as anybody whether it’s to be a truck driver, an Infantryman or a cook is just to serve,” Boersma said. “Limitations are placed by individual people. We are only limited by what we set as our limitations.”
“It’s a calling to be a soldier,” she added.
In answering that calling, Command Sgt. Maj. Boersma, has held many prestigious positions to include one of the highest positions as an enlisted soldier serving in the Army and currently leads more than 700 combat trained and readied soldiers.
Although many may see that as a huge achievement it’s just one highlight from her 21 years as a defender of freedom.
In addition to reaching the rank of command Sergeant Major, Boersma, a native of Flagstaff, Ariz., has set the bar for other women following in her footsteps.
Living up to her motto, that limitations are only those limits we set on ourselves; Boersma spent three years side by side with her male counterparts as a drill sergeant pushing and inspiring young men and women to reach new limits.
“The bottom line is I got to train America’s sons and daughters for three years of my life… If I could have done that for 20 years I would have,” Boersma said. “It was hard, time consuming, I was tired but it was the best job in the entire U.S. Army.”
In 2003 she received the Drill Sergeant of the Year award. To earn the award, Boersma was pitted against drill sergeants from all over the country in an intense test of mental and physical grit.
Like many inspirational female leaders throughout the history of the military, Boersma has often shied away from receiving any kind of recognition and instead attributes her success to the work ethic instilled in her by her mother and grandmother along with the indirect influence of one of the Army’s most famous female leaders; (Ret) Gen. Ann Dunwoody.
“Gen. Dunwoody is a perfect example of a female in the Army that achieved things no one ever imagined could be achieved by a woman,” Boersma said. “Indirectly I followed her, watched her throughout her career and watched her capitalize on everything positive she could do in the United States Army and never once said she couldn’t do it because she was a female.”
Similar to Boersma, Gen. Dunwoody worked her way to the top of her profession and retired as the first women to hold the rank of four-star
Among her many accomplishments, Gen. Dunwoody was also the first woman to command a Battalion in the Army’s All-American 82nd Airborne Division.
By closely following the example set by Dunwoody, Boersma has set herself apart from her peers.
In a letter to the 1st Infantry Division Command Sgt. Maj. Miguel A. Rivera, Col. William Ostlund, commander of the 3rd IBCT, recommended Boersma as a candidate to represent the Army and speak on behalf of all women service members at the Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues annual memorial ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery.
Col. Ostlund stated that her “positive attitude and commitment is infections and consistently inspires seniors, peers, and subordinates to include service members and community members of all genders.”
While her career as an enlisted soldier, leader and mentor has helped cement her legacy among those she has lead, she is hoping it is her advice to tomorrows soldiers that will define her career.
“What we joined the military thinking we could do, we never imagined we could be to this point,” Boersma said. “I would tell a female wanting to join the military today to join to serve, join for the pride of our nation, be prepared to live the Army values and always lead from the front.”
“You don’t join the Army because you are trying to prove something, you join because you want to be part of a family,” she added. “We join this Army we put on this uniform and we are prepared to die for each other regardless of whether we are a male or female.”