Sgt. Chris McCann
2nd BCT, 10th Mtn. Div. (LI) PAO
Multi-National Division – Center
CAMP STRIKER, Iraq — War has been considered a man’s job, historically. Even in Vietnam, women were nurses, not on the front lines.
But in an asymmetric theater like Iraq, there are no front lines, so support Soldiers, male and female, may find themselves trading fire with the enemy.
Staff Sgt. Stephanie Harvey, a native of Clayton, N.Y., is assigned to the 210th Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry) out of Fort Drum, N.Y., but she supports the brigade’s 2nd Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment, transporting supplies to the battalion’s forward outposts.
Her husband, Sgt. 1st Class Josh Harvey, serves as the brigade’s personnel office noncommissioned officer in charge – a switch from the stereotypical dual-military marriage in which the wife works in an office while the husband is “out in sector.”
Stephanie joined the army to be a driver, she said, when she was in college.
“I wasn’t going to class, and even though I was always athletic, I wasn’t exercising either,” she said. “I knew the Army does physical training every day, and my life lacked discipline. So I decided to enlist.”
Her hometown of Clayton is only a half-hour drive from Fort Drum, so she had a first assignment there written into her enlistment contract so that she could stay close to her family.
But Fort Drum is the home of the 10th Mountain Division; the Soldiers specialize in light infantry. The vast majority of troops are combat arms and male. So when she arrived at the 3rd Squadron, 71st Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade, she was one of very few women in the unit – and the first one promoted by 3-71 after going to a cavalry promotion board. She was also the first female promoted by a 2-14 board after her transfer to 2nd BCT.
Being a female attached to a combat arms unit was an adjustment for the traditionally male chain of command. Until this point, most combat-arms NCOs had dealt with only male Soldiers.
“They didn’t know the exact measurements for women’s wear of ribbons and decorations,” Stephanie said. “So they didn’t ask those – but on the land navigation and common Soldier tasks, and the other subjects, I did better than a lot of the male Soldiers. Being female, you really have to know your stuff.”
The Army is steeped in tradition; ceremonies, customs and courtesies and even some tactics have been handed down since before the United States even came into being. But some habits aren’t positive, and they die hard.
“When I began supporting 2-14, the guys knew who I was, because they knew my husband – he worked there,” said Stephanie. “Once they saw that I knew my job and wouldn’t take their guff, they took me more seriously. For example, the ammunition system was all messed up, and I’d been an ammo NCO before, so I set it up to standard.
“But it was difficult at first; they didn’t see me as an NCO, they saw me as a female. It took a couple of months for me to earn their respect, but now I feel that I’ve helped pave the way for other women to work with the unit. At first, people would find a male Soldier to ask if they had a question – even if the question wasn’t in his lane. Now, I have first sergeants and commanders coming to me with questions.”
Josh said that the stereotype of women being less capable at typically male jobs is unfortunate.
“The more mature the infantryman, the easier it is for them to accept women,” he said. “But there’s still a stigma there, and there’s always the ‘big brother’ effect, wanting to help. Most infantry guys haven’t worked with females before, so they’re extra cognizant of what they say and do.”
Stephanie said that female Soldiers have to be “on top of their game” to earn the respect of males, and that whether that’s justified or not, she does it.
“My Soldiers respect me,” she said. “They say I’m tougher, but I had to be, especially at first, so they wouldn’t think I was a pushover. I have what I think is the most disciplined squad in the company now, and my Soldiers see me as their NCO, regardless of my gender.”
Even though she’s a support Soldier, Stephanie earned her Combat Action Badge after less than two months in Iraq. The badge is awarded for engaging or being engaged by enemy forces.
“We were on a logistics patrol on the Mulla Fayyad highway,” Stephanie recalled. “There was an opening in the reeds. Just as we passed that, we saw a guy in the opening, and he fired a rocket-propelled grenade at us. It hit right next to the truck – not on it, thank God – and it just threw mud into the gun turret. It was loud and kind of scary, but we were all fine.”
Unlike many troops in the 2nd BCT, the Harveys don’t have to deal with a 15-month separation from their spouse. But being together brings its own concerns.
“Being together is convenient for us, but we don’t rub it in people’s faces,” Stephanie said. “If I’m stressed, I can always talk to him when I get home. But I can’t say ‘Oh, I want to leave early today to go see my husband,’ because my Soldiers don’t have the opportunity to see their spouses.”
Josh said he is confident in Stephanie’s skills, but he still worries.
“I make her call me every time she comes back from a mission,” he said, laughing. “It’s a standing order in this family.”
He also takes good-natured joking for their jobs.
“People crack jokes once in awhile, but the Army chose my job, and I take a lot of pride in doing it well,” Josh said. “But there’s still the machismo that every guy has, I think, that I feel like I should be out there. Everybody does their piece, though.”
“I pick on him a little,” Stephanie said. “As far as danger, I wouldn’t mind switching with him – but I like what I do and I wouldn’t want the responsibility of his job, with all the paperwork for the entire brigade.
“Still, I wouldn’t mind being in an air-conditioned office,” she joked.
The Harveys are nearing the end of their 15-month deployment to Iraq, and will return to Fort Drum together. Josh plans to leave the Army when his term of enlistment ends, and work as a civilian when they move to Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., the post Stephanie re-enlisted for recently.
Saturday, August 04, 2007
Sgt. Chris McCann