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    Grandma wears combat boots

    Grandma wears combat boots

    Photo By Staff Sgt. Andrea Merritt | U.S. Army Spc. Tracie Stewart, a Spring, Texas native and female engagement team...... read more read more



    Story by Sgt. Andrea Merritt 

    Combined Joint Task Force 1 - Afghanistan

    PAKTIKA PROVINCE, Afghanistan – For soldiers in the 3rd Battalion, 66th Armored Regiment’s Scout Platoon, traversing the hellacious terrain in Paktika is simply a part of life.

    At times, climbing sharp, jagged rocks that form the highest mountains or trekking kilometers on end through villages can be physically and mentally taxing on the toughest of soldiers.

    For 43-year-old Spring, Texas native Spc. Tracie Stewart, it is exactly the challenge she was looking for when she enlisted in the U.S. Army six years ago.

    “I always wanted to join the military,” Stewart said with a slight southern drawl. “After my kids were old enough and [the military] raised the age limit, I told myself ‘I’m going to do it,’ and I haven’t regretted it since.”

    Now on her third deployment, Stewart, a truck driver by trade, is currently attached to Scout Platoon and works as a female engagement team member. For now, she is the only woman on the team.

    “It’s different with the scouts,” Stewart said. “Being a female, I had to learn to fit in with them. You can’t be a wimp. I’ve learned a lot from them.”

    Standing nearly 5 feet 5 inches tall and weighing approximately 125 pounds, this mother of two and grandmother is proving war is not just a young man’s game.

    Despite her age and small frame, Stewart is deceptively tough and has earned the respect of her leadership and peers.

    “There has never been a time when we had to slow down or stop because Spc. Stewart couldn’t keep up,” said Lima, Ohio native U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Eric Swinehart, platoon sergeant, Scout Plt.

    “She’s motivated and if there are times we don’t take her out on mission, she gets upset,” Swinehart said. “She’s not typical. She’s a 40-year-old woman and she can hang with the 19, 20-year-old males.”

    As a FET member, Stewart converses with the local female population and handles them during search and clearance missions, which is something her male counterparts can’t do without offending the Afghan culture.

    In Afghan society, interactions between unrelated males and females go against cultural norms, so Stewart’s role as a FET member is crucial when the unit conducts certain operations.

    “It makes one area that myself and my platoon leader don’t have to worry about,” Swinehart explained. “Sometimes the women will hide things on them. There are times when [Stewart] has found things of intelligence value.”

    Although important, Stewart’s job can be demanding, especially when she has to keep track of 20 to 30 women at a time, and the women will often times have three or four children with them.

    While Stewart’s job has its difficulties, it is something she fully enjoys.

    “I worked in a women’s clinic while I was in Wazi Khwah and I loved it, working with the women and children,” Stewart said. “Now, when I go out with the scouts, I like to hand out toothpaste and candy to the kids and teach them how to play hopscotch.”

    Stewart’s role in the FET prepares her to deal with local Afghan women while on mission and her role as a mother to two sons has prepared her to deal with being on a male-dominated team.

    Many of the soldiers in Scout Plt. are the same age as her sons, who are 25 and 20 years old, which adds another element to the already-existent family dynamic within the platoon.

    “She’s like the den mother to the scouts,” said San Antonio native Spc. Chris Thorton, scout and all-source analyst with Scout Plt., who described Stewart as a tough, intelligent, funny, easy-going person that’s easy to talk to.

    “Most guys don’t like to admit it, but she’s got that motherly love and everybody needs that,” Thorton said. “Even if she’s not going out on mission, she makes sure the guys have snacks and things like that. She loves her job and I’m proud to serve with her.”

    While many service members her age are getting ready to retire, Stewart plans to continue her military career. She hopes to someday work as a FET member with the Special Forces.

    “I love the whole idea of the military. It’s an elite group. Only a small part of the population is a part of it,” Stewart said. “I like what it stands for and I think I was meant for it.”



    Date Taken: 12.07.2011
    Date Posted: 12.08.2011 16:19
    Story ID: 81097

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