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    Driven and determined, it’s never ‘nice and easy’

    Driven and determined, it’s never ‘nice and easy’

    Photo By John Hughel | Four Women, Four Career Paths: (left to right) Army National Guard Sgt. 1st Class Anna...... read more read more



    Story by Maj. Leslie Reed 

    Oregon National Guard Public Affairs Office

    SALEM, Ore. - Four women. Four career paths. Working for the National Guard, no matter the capacity or status, is different today for women than it was 20-years ago. Women are serving in larger numbers, in combat roles and in more visible leadership positions.

    When I spoke to these women leaders; a senior non-commissioned officer, a warrant officer, a field-grade officer and a civilian director they all said essentially the same thing, I come to work, I do my job, I work hard. “It’s the same as you would anywhere,” said Chief Warrant Officer Two Shiketha Riley.

    “When I first came in, women were not allowed in combat arms, there were a lot of different perspectives and views about women and their role in the armed forces,” reflects Sgt. 1st Class Anna Rutherford. As time has progressed, and we have seen women on the battlefield (i.e. Iraq and Afghanistan), doing what their male counterparts are doing, we have evolved and now we are in a place where women are allowed, and we see women doing what their male counterparts are doing day in and day out. We’ve evolved over time.”

    Tracy Garcia, Human Resources Director for the Oregon Military Department’s State Personnel, remembers first coming to the Oregon Military Department in 2018, “it wasn’t hard for me to change because I am pretty much the same person and I just do my work. Coming into an organization that didn’t have a whole lot of executive leadership on the female side – the reality is my peers have never treated me any differently that would lead me to believe it’s because I’m a woman.”

    Growing up, Chief Riley put all her time and energy into academics. “I always wanted to be a dentist, but my family didn’t have the money to send me to dental school,” she remembers. During her sophomore year, when “I realized the money wasn’t there, (and) my friends were getting in trouble, getting pregnant, a recruiter came into the school, and I took the ASVAB and passed. I had written down my goals, and the constraints that were preventing me -- it was the money. I said, "Sign me up.”

    Initially enlisting in the Alabama Guard, Riley later commissioned, but as a 2nd Lt., couldn’t make a living off ADOS, “it was too unpredictable as a single parent.” She resigned her commission and accepted an active-guard reserve (AGR) position reverting back to serving as a specialist. “I was okay with it; it was a solid career. I had to ensure that my daughter was going to be taken care of,” she recalls.

    Lt. Col. Julia Appt, also faced the tough decision of how to pay for college. Walking into the 17th Street (Salem) Armory she told recruiters, “So I need to pay for college, what can you do for me?” Having no familial ties to the Oregon Guard, the signs she had seen around Salem ``built by the Oregon National Guard,” had sparked an interest and a solution, particularly coupled with the student loan repayment program and a bonus. She ultimately signed on to become a Communications Security (COMSEC) repairer and was assigned to Bravo Company, 141 Brigade Support Battalion.

    As a private in 1997, remembers Appt, “My world was different…I was really only concerned about my platoon. I think I was the only female in my platoon in the maintenance company of 141. I think we had more females in general, than some of the other units out there at the time. We did have females on the 141 battalion staff, but in my little world, I just didn’t see them a lot. As long as I’ve been in a position, I’ve shown up and done my job, I was always treated the same, well. It didn’t feel like it was any significant issue.”

    Sgt. 1st Class Rutherford remembers her recruiter really selling it to her, “he told me it was the greatest thing, that I should be this (a military police officer) and I shipped off in January to Fort Leonard Wood…I actually told my family, and they were not happy, to this day, my mother still isn’t happy. Parents are worried about their kids, that’s a constant.” Rightfully so, as Rutherford’s father had served as a Marine with the Republic of Korea (ROK) Marine Corps at the end of the Vietnam War.

    Garcia believes it important for people to “find what their interest is, to match their skills. I think that there is a lot of room here (at the Oregon Military Department). If you work hard and you do a good job, it gets recognized. I think that anyone can grow a career as long as they are willing to put in the effort.”
    Riley remembers she was initially “mad at myself for not going active duty. I wish I would have. “But you know what, I decided I’m not going to change anything, let’s see how this unfolds.” Ultimately, she was able to complete her bachelor’s degree in computer programming in 3-years without deploying.

    The same couldn’t be said for Appt. With her bachelor’s degree complete, Appt had hopes of obtaining her Master's, to experience something new on the east coast, and be closer to Canada, where her husband is from; little did she know what lay ahead. “I was a pretty new 2LT” she recalls, “I IST’d (inter-state transferred) to Maine, I showed up, had a MUTA (Multiple Unit Training Assembly) 2, got to know a couple people and a couple of weeks later was notified that I was cross leveled for a deployment to Iraq.”

    Appt credits the built-in resiliency we have as Soldiers, when she was called to deploy as a heavy equipment platoon leader, something she had no previous experience doing as a military intelligence officer. I told myself, “You’ve done this before, you can figure it out. And take it one bite at a time and it will work out. Moral of the story is, don’t panic.” “It was a tough start, because not only was I new, I wasn’t an engineer, I wasn’t a logistics officer, it was a matter of jumping in, listening to people and figuring it out on the fly. It became a fantastic experience and I learned a lot.”

    “You can do hard things and carry on,” says Appt. “Take in the problem, do we need to hit the emergency button, who can we approach? Being able to have a network or sense of how the organization works” is important, “so we know who to go talk to, to get to resolutions.”

    As if work isn’t difficult enough sometimes, balancing both a career and life outside of the guard can also be complicated. As an organization, the Army asks a lot of its Soldiers, civilians and military families. Riley recalls there were times early on in her career that she slept in her supply room, because there was just that much work, “I would wake up at 4 o’clock and work until like ten o’clock at night, we just didn’t have that layer of support, they just expected so much without layers of support. I spent a lot of time away from my family.”

    Riley even began doing her “laundry early in the morning and bringing it to work with me so I could iron during my lunch time instead of going out, I stayed here and knocked out my laundry.”

    In 2010, Riley decided to leave her AGR career path on the east coast behind, move across the country to be with her spouse, and join the Oregon Guard, these were “hard decisions but I had a good support system, and they (her family) knew there was no talking me out of it.”

    “It is kind of a difficult situation, particularly as an AGR says Rutherford being frank, “The Operational Tempo is difficult. We have good leaders, but sometimes those leaders aren’t great at the work-life balance.” How she asks, “do we fill that fuel tank up? Make time to do things like playing an instrument or working out. “It’s a critical part of maintaining health and vitality. Sleep and recovery are absolutely critical...You have to find ways to maintain vitality. Find a way to refuel, whatever that looks like.”

    One thing all four women also agree on, is the importance of mentors and a support system, whether in or outside of the guard. These mentors' support, feedback, and perspectives were a key part in their decision-making and in working to attain their goals.

    Garcia credits three different mentors throughout her career who pushed her beyond what she thought she was capable of and comfortable with. While she had successfully demonstrated early in her career her ability to be a back office medical assistant, she wasn’t ready to work the front office, “I did not want to do that, I begged her (her supervisor). But I am where I am today because of her. Through her forcing me.” One of her mentors explained she was “willing to take that risk” challenging Garcia’s aversion to change. It was these mentors that pushed Garcia to do bigger things.

    Appt, who is the only woman yet to have commanded the Civil Support Team and currently serves as the 41st Infantry Brigade’s full-time administrative officer believes that “all I can do is control how I do my job, how I build relationships and work as a team. And then, doing what I can to support other peers. Everything is possible, just like the female leaders who went ahead of me. I have lots of different mentors,” says Appt, “My most enduring mentor is actually outside the Guard, my former college advisor. She doesn’t have a military connection but can talk to and relate both concepts and issues to help me out.”

    “Anyone can be a mentor to somebody,” says Rutherford. “I ask a lot of people I respect and admire their opinions on various things. Sometimes they will provide me nuggets and I will take and store it away and take that with me throughout my career. It’s not necessarily (a) designated (person), it’s picking up everything of value that I can put in my tool bag.”

    “A lot of people helped me get here,” recalls Riley, who is now pursuing opportunities to mentor young women in her community, the same community that welcomed her and her husband after she IST’d from Alabama to Oregon in 2010. She describes she has “a passion to work with young people. I volunteer at my church, I just want to (in 10-years), be able to transition to a mentorship program. That’s really what I’m working towards. We’ve obtained so many great skills that younger people haven’t been exposed to. We have to be invested in them (younger generation); they can be great leaders.”

    Rutherford spends her drill weekends instructing “classes on the Army Combat Fitness Test. I give Soldiers tools on how to do this, get better at this… Every time I’m instructing, I can see visibly when the lightbulb comes on and that is worth its weight in gold.”

    Looking to those who may be starting their military careers, Riley asks “How bad do you want it? You have to want this. It’s not going to be all nice and easy you’ll be faced with things throughout your career, you’ll have to be able to stand your ground, you won’t always have someone in your corner at the beginning to push you through things, but if you are determined, willing, willing to learn, willing to go through trials and experience and allow them to make you stronger, it will be a great career and it’s one of the best decision I’ve made.”

    Appt agrees, “It’s going to be hard at times, but there’s a way to figure it out. So if it’s a passion, something you like to do, then things will generally work out. You will have to work for it, you’re going to have to get some support networks in place, and you’re going to have rough days and good days and sometimes it’s getting through those bad days to the good days and making sure those good days give you a sense of purpose and fulfillment.”

    “I’m still in the process of learning,”” says Rutherford. “I don’t think the process never ends for me. I always want the feedback, how do I improve, how do I do better, how do I get to that next level. I’ve learned that what I wear on my chest has nothing to do with the quality of a Soldier or Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) I am. Me being better is always a plus.”

    “Don’t put things off from life,” concludes Riley, “Keep pushing through, seek someone you can trust, reach out to people, we are always here to help one another. Live your life and serve your country- you can do both.”



    Date Taken: 03.30.2023
    Date Posted: 03.30.2023 20:55
    Story ID: 441620
    Location: SALEM, OR, US 

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