News: Just one of the guys
Story by Staff Sgt. Jonathan Lovelady
FORWARD OPERATING BASE FARAH, Afghanistan - Think it's difficult being a female in the military these days? Try being the only female in an all male unit - better yet, try being the only Navy female in an all male Army infantry unit. That’s the position U.S. Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Lindsey Bakke, a master at arms by trade, found herself in during her 13-month deployment with Provincial Reconstruction Team Farah.
“There are definitely moments when I think, ‘Why am I doing this? I don’t think I have gotten three hours of sleep this week,’” said Bakke, referring to the demanding work schedule she endures as the assistant sergeant of the guard at Forward Operating Base Farah. She is responsible for overseeing the entry control point operations, working with local Afghan security forces, and is a key player in the FOB’s base defense planning. “The biggest challenge for me has been the culture shock of being with an Army unit. They don’t take it easy on me. In the Navy, when your work is done, you are done for the day. The Army work day never seems to end.”
Working anywhere from 14 to 18 hours a day, 7 days a week, has given Bakke plenty of time to earn the respect and acceptance of the soldiers with whom she spends “99.9 percent” of her time.
“It has definitely been hard, like fighting an uphill battle on a sandy hill,” she said, “I am always having to prove myself because a) I’m Navy and b) I’m female. It can be very demoralizing sometimes. Luckily, I have some good guys who defend me and fight for me. That definitely helps.”
Most of Bakke’s work day is spent at the ECP, where the hours are long and the tempo can be excruciatingly slow. The harsh working environment has proven to be a catalyst for the close relationship she has developed with her fellow security force members, who often poke fun at each other to kill time.
“We give each other a hard time, but it’s always goodnatured,” she explained, “Those guys are a riot! They are like brothers to me. I think they just see me as one of the guys.”
One example of the “brother/sister” bond was demonstrated when the ECP squad leader refused to acknowledge her questions unless she presented them in the form of a song. She happily obliged him and a laugh was shared by all.
“We get bored at the ECP sometimes and we find some creative ways to keep ourselves entertained,” said Bakke with a smile. “When you have a bunch of infantry guys with nothing to do, they’re gonna find stuff to do.”
The transition from Navy master at arms to Navy “infantrywoman” has not always been a smooth one for “Cpl. Bakke” (a nickname given to her by some of the junior soldiers). She has overcome many obstacles in the process. Perhaps the biggest, was passing the Army physical fitness test. The APFT incorporates a longer distance run than the Navy’s equivalent evaluation and places more emphasis on proper push-up and sit-up technique.
When asked about her first experience with the Army’s method of evaluating combat readiness, Bakke cracked a huge smile as she responded, “Their PT program caught me completely off guard,” she laughed. “The first time I took their PT test, I failed...Epically! Lucky for me the guys worked with me and got me to where I needed to be. It certainly got me into better shape.”
Her acceptance into the Texas Army National Guard’s Bravo Company, 1st Battalion of the 143rd Infantry Brigade detachment from Alaska became official when she was presented with a “Texas T” patch and a coin from the unit’s command sergeant major during his visit to FOB Farah.
“It was really cool,” she said, “Obviously being Navy, being female and having an infantry unit say ‘we’re gonna let you wear our patch’ was a sign that they accepted me as one of their own. It was a pretty big deal to me.”
Bravo Company, commonly referred to as “B-Co”, was not alone in the fight for Bakke’s services. During the four month build up training at Camp Atterbury, Ind., PRT Farah’s highest leaders went to bat for her when the Navy decided to cut all three of the MAs assigned to the unit. “We wanted to keep her,” said U.S. Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer William Gibbens, PRT Farah’s senior enlisted leader, “Her can-do attitude and willingness to do whatever she’s tasked with are outstanding!”
The hard work and determination paid off for the lowest ranking, and only female, MA on the team. Of the three that began, she was the only one selected to join PRT Farah on their deployment to Afghanistan. She had proven herself to the right people and earned the right to enjoy the fruits of her labor.
“It is an honor to have had two Navy SEALs fight so hard to keep me,” she said of the Navy SEAL commanding officer and senior enlisted leader selecting her for the team. “I have the utmost respect for them and the job they do. It makes me think I must be doing something right. I like to think it was the hard work I put in during training that led them to fight so hard to keep me when the Navy was trying to cut our positions.”
Petty Officer 3rd Class Bakke has accomplished many of her goals during her tenure with PRT Farah; and although she is thousands of miles away from her parents and family, she insists that none of her achievements would be possible without their influence.
“I am very thankful for the way my family raised me and the lessons they taught me from a very young age,” she said. “The things I learned from them have made me a better person, a better sailor, and now a better soldier. I don’t think the relationship between the Army and me would have gone very well without the values I learned from my parents.”
When the journey is over and the tempo has finally slowed for Petty Officer Lindsey Bakke, she will return to her beloved family and her horses back home, knowing that she has earned the respect and admiration of PRT Farah, two Navy SEALs, an all male infantry unit, and a grateful nation. She is proof that hard work, a positive attitude and support from the people around you can push a person past any challenge.
So what does she think of everything she has faced in the past year? Her answer was simple: “Overall it has been a great experience,” she said before adding, “I miss the Navy. The culture in the Army is VERY different.”
When asked if she would do it all again, the answer was not so simple. “Knowing what I know now; if I was asked to do this deployment again, I would definitely [long pause and a laugh] think about it.”