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    Former WAC Band Soldier found sweet notes over 43-year career



    Story by Sgt. Nelson Robles 

    13th Public Affairs Detachment

    The successful implementation of the Army’s Equal Opportunity Program has allowed women to cross over into more challenging and also male-dominated career fields. However, in the early 70’s, the role of women in the Army had more constraints.

    There aren’t many Soldiers who have been able to have a firsthand look at the progress the Army has made with workplace equality for women, but retired Chief Warrant Officer 5 Jeanne Pace, the longest serving female of any rank, has this unique perspective.

    Her active duty career spanned 43 years and began as a clarinetist in the all-female 14th Women’s Army Corps Band from Fort McClellan, Alabama, in 1972. She described this formative time in her career as a close-knit Family.

    “The women in that band became my mom, my aunt; my family,” Pace explained. “They’d keep saying ‘You’ve done so well; look at what you’ve accomplished’ but if they hadn’t brought me up right, hadn’t trained me to solidify my technical skills and if they had not made it at least somewhat fun, there’d be no way I could’ve done it.”

    Several years into Pace’s career, the Army slowly began to integrate male members into the band to test the theory that men and women could work together. However, due to the policies in place, they weren’t allowed to train together. Pace explained that with the official integration in 1978, the world as she knew it started to become more difficult for women.

    “These women stayed (in the 14th) their entire career and all they could wear were Good Conduct medals,” Pace said. “There were no impact awards, no Army Achievement medals and they couldn’t get service awards since they hadn’t changed duty stations or assignments. They didn’t go to school because of their gender – nor was I allowed to – so they weren’t competitive for promotion in the regular Army.”

    Women who enlisted after the integration faced different challenges, sometimes finding themselves to be the sole woman in an all-male unit.

    “I transitioned as a staff sergeant and I don’t think I had as many challenges as women who reported to male-dominated units for their first assignment,” Pace said. “Once the Army integrated the bands, these young women went through basic training and Advanced Individual Training. Then, they’d go out to the (all-male) bands and that’s where they encountered sexual harassment. This being before the Equal Opportunity Program was really formalized the way it is today.”

    At the time, the Army’s Equal Opportunity Program was still focused on easing tension between racial and ethnic groups, but would quickly expand to include women. Affirmative Action ensured the members of the former WAC were not overlooked by the promotion system.

    After integration, advanced schooling opportunities became available and Pace began to prepare herself to attend warrant officer training.

    “I had reached the rank of sergeant first class and knew what the responsibilities were at that level, as I had worked administrative duties and worked closely with the band master,” Pace recalled. “I realized I had a passion for people, for problem solving and felt that trying to become a warrant officer would challenge me more and allow me to live up to my full potential.”

    The schooling for warrant officers proved challenging.

    “I attempted to become a warrant in 1983 and I was not successful. That was the first career failure I had experienced,” Pace said. “What that did was make me a fighter. It also allowed me to reassess if I really wanted to do this and my answer was ‘yes.’”

    After the unsuccessful attempt, Pace sharpened her skills and tried again, graduating as the Distinguished Military Graduate of the Warrant Officer Entry Course, at Fort Rucker, Alabama, in 1985. She was appointed Chief Warrant Officer 2 and reported to Fort Hood as the commander of the 1st Cavalry Division Band serving as bandmaster, another first in the Army.

    “It was at a time when there were few female officers in the division, so the adjustment period was a little interesting,” Pace explained. “My immediate (male) supervisor and many others were very supportive. They just needed to adjust to being comfortable working around/with women.”

    Pace’s career allowed her to travel the world, commanding the 79th Army Band in Panama, the 399th Army Band, Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, and The Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps, Fort Myer, Virginia. As the most senior warrant officer bandmaster, she served as the Army Band’s proponency officer at the Adjutant General School, Fort Jackson, South Carolina, before returning to Fort Hood.

    “A lot has changed throughout my 43 years, from only allowing women in combat service support jobs to opening combat military occupations,” Pace listed. “From wearing uniforms that consisted only of skirts (pants were too masculine) and regulations that stated ‘hair must be feminine in style’ to all opportunities for assignments and promotions to all grades being possible.”

    As many trailblazers before her, Pace felt she only performed the best she could.

    “As a young Soldier, I didn’t realize that I had enlisted right in the middle of the equal rights movement. Ask the women who came before me and they’ll tell you the same thing; that they were just here to do a job the best they could every day,” Pace explained. “If you are then the shining example, great, but if they had done a poor job at it, I wouldn’t have had these opportunities. Each generation I say is paying it forward whether you realize it or not.”



    Date Taken: 08.25.2016
    Date Posted: 09.07.2016 11:48
    Story ID: 208965
    Location: FORT HOOD, TX, US 
    Hometown: TACOMA, WA, US

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