BOISE, Idaho — 1st Lt. Jessica Pauley made Idaho Army National Guard history in 2019 by become its first female infantry officer. The accomplishment is paving the way for junior enlisted women within the organization to join the combat arms specialty.
“In 2018, Idaho’s only infantry company had no females and it could not be opened to junior enlisted Soldiers without a qualified female officer first,” said Pauley. “When I heard that, I knew I had to change my branch choice from ordnance to infantry because it was an opportunity to lead from the front.”
Pauley enlisted into the Guard in 2014, graduating from Advanced Individual Training as a public affairs specialist and returned to enroll in the ROTC program at Boise State. She earned her degree in media arts on a full scholarship while simultaneously serving in the Guard and earning her commission as second lieutenant in 2018.
After she joined her new unit as an ordinance officer, Pauley met a soldier who influenced her decision to change branches.
“When I met Sgt. 1st Class Melanie Galletti, I saw her struggle with wanting to be in an infantry line unit but not being able to because of the Army’s leaders first initiative,” said Pauley. “I didn’t realize that was a problem at the time because I heard the Army had been integrating females since 2015.”
The Army opened combat roles including armor and infantry to women in 2015, but the leaders first initiative requires a platoon first have a branch qualified female officer or a non-commissioned officer assigned to the unit. This must happen before the unit can accept junior enlisted soldiers in the ranks of private through specialist. Other integration requirements include gender integration training and command climate surveys.
Pauley decided to become the organization’s first female infantry officer. She wanted to support advancement in the integration and help female soldiers realize their potential in combat arms.
“I knew I could do it and would regret it if I didn’t try,” said Pauley. “Everyone was very supportive of my decision and gave me the added push to go.”
Pauley graduated from the US Army’s Infantry Basic Officer Leaders Course in June 2019 and was assigned to the Idaho Army National Guard’s C Company, 2nd Battalion of the 116th Cavalry Regiment. As a platoon leader of a mechanized infantry unit, Pauley is responsible for training Soldiers in infantry tactics, both dismounted and mounted on M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicles.
“We’ve had females in our ranks for quite some time now in a variety of positions and they do a great job,” said Col. Benjamin Cook, 2-116th Cavalry Regiment commander. “It’s only fitting that they be allowed the same opportunities in all military occupational skills.”
C Company along with the battalion’s armor B Company, recently received authorization to assess its junior enlisted female Soldiers interested in serving in combat arms.
This milestone comes partly after Pauley and two other Idaho Army National Guard female officers became branch qualified and assigned to positions within the battalion’s units. Last year, B Company Soldiers, 2nd Lt. Brook Berard and 2nd Lt. Lauren Bolt, graduated from the U.S. Army’s Armor Basic Officer Leaders Course.
Prior to them, the Idaho Army National Guard saw several female enlisted Soldiers led the way by being the first to take advantage of the new integration standard and complete combat arms training courses.
In 2015, Idaho Guardsman 1st Sgt. Erin Smith became the nation’s first female enlisted Soldier to graduate from M1 Armor Crewman School.
Following her, Staff Sgt. Kylene Huerta completed the same training and became the first female Soldier to briefly be assigned to the organization as a tank crew member.
In 2017, Sgt. 1st Class Melanie Galletti graduated from the U.S. Army’s Infantryman Course as the Idaho Guard’s first qualified female enlisted infantry Soldier.
Despite their relatively new ability to serve in combat roles, women have been serving in the military since congress passed the Women’s Armed Service Integration Act in 1948, allowing them to serve as permanent members.
While being a female in combat arms is challenging, Pauley said it has also been rewarding to be part of an organization where she is treated equally in her combat role regardless of gender.
“There are so many people who want to see female integration into combat arms normal,” said Pauley. “The Guard has been moving and pushing for diversity and progress because it makes for more effective and dynamic fighting teams. We need quality people from all backgrounds and that’s what I hope to see over the course of my career in the Guard.”