Warm-ups, stretches, push-ups, long jogs – the life of an Army cadet is a stressful one. For most people, the first image that registers in their minds is that of chiseled and toned men performing all of the above. That image is old news, however; today’s soldier is Ann E. Dunwoody, who, on Nov. 14, became the first female in U.S. Military history to be appointed a four-star general.
“I think [Dunwoody] becoming a four-star general is awesome,” said Meghan Omalley, an international relations sophomore and second-year cadet in MSU’s Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC). “Females have definitely come a long way, branch-wise, because there are so much more opportunities. It’s not just limited to being a nurse anymore.”
[omalley2]Even though Dunwoody does not want her gender to overshadow her accomplishment, she represents something worth acknowledging: change, inclusion, and recognition for a job well-done for both genders. She is an inspiration of sorts for the 2.5 million women who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces since the American Revolution. It gives women like those in MSU’s ROTC, encouragement to follow in Dunwoody’s combat boot steps and climb the ranks in a male-dominated military.
Women may have more encouragement and role models but that does not mean they are completely equal with men in the army. In some cases that may be beneficial for the average woman in the U.S. – after all, only men are required to register for selective service when they turn 18 years old. But gendered differences continue when a woman chooses to go into the military. There are still regulations that prohibit women from the front lines; only in the Iraq war have women begun to hold combat positions. Despite these ongoing inequalities, women are becoming more of a presence in the army, a trend that’s also reflected in MSU’s ROTC program.
MSU’s Army ROTC is a training program that preps, educates and recruits commissioned Army officers. Its headquarters are in Demonstration Hall. ROTC programs are nationwide and college-based, meaning a student can take various courses related to the military throughout their college career. Once a student graduates from the program, he or she earns the title of second lieutenant. MSU ROTC, like all other ROTC programs, offers merit-based full-tuition scholarships, which appeal to many students, including women like Tasonja Frantz.
[army]”My parents are divorced and we didn’t have a lot of money for school, so this was a good way to go,” said Frantz, an international relations senior and four-year Army ROTC cadet. That was not the only reason Frantz joined. She came from a military family, so she was always exposed to military life. “My dad is a war officer and my grandfather served in World War II. I was a junior in high school, and my dad told me about the National Guard, and I went to basic training before I enrolled in ROTC,” Frantz said.
Frantz acknowledged that there are some slight differences between the sexes in the military, but she never felt that being female hindered her. “There are times when it’s difficult because we are biologically different, but I don’t find it hard personally,” said Frantz. “As females we deal with certain issues that men are leery about dealing with or don’t know how. It may not be completely equal, but we have come a long way. I’ve had a great experience.”
Both cadets say the key to partnering military service with college is time management. Juggling school and work along with a social life is a challenge for any student, regardless of their sex. “You have to learn how to balance everything, know when you have time for this and when you have time for that,” said Omalley. “I still do fun things, but I have a schedule.”
Frantz added that the military and ROTC does not consume her life. “I’m just like any other student; I go to class and work. I hang with my friends. But on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, I have physical training and labs.”
[frantz]As a four-year cadet, Frantz is still only part of a handful of female student officers in ROTC. Only 29 members of the 122-person MSU Army ROTC are female. But having women in the program is a step up from the old days where women were merely military nurses. Today, there are 21 female general officers in the Army, and four are above the one-star rank. Women are now pilots, medics and police officers. Since its start in 2003, more than 90,000 women have served in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. There are still 16,000 women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
This is different from when Matt Rawlins was in the army. A soldier for 10 years, he didn’t have much interaction with female soldiers. “My experience dealing with female soldiers was rather limited because women aren’t allowed to serve in the tanks and infantry units,” said Rawlins, who is a 1998 graduate of Michigan State and served in the 3rd Infantry Division during the invasion and Iraq war in 2003 and 2005. This lack of interaction between sexes has changed since Rawlins served. He is now the executive officer for the military science department and works with MSU’s ROTC.
“When the U.S. had the draft in 1933, one of the ways they wanted to keep recruitment numbers up was getting women involved. I think they [women] picked up the slack that the men weren’t doing,” Rawlins said. Both of his grandmothers served in World War II.
While the armed forces have come a long way since the 1930s, males are the considered, by many, the face of the five branches. And many military women use that as motivation. “I never felt discriminated against. I don’t notice distinct differences,” said Omalley. “I mean, physically, we are usually shorter than men so doing certain activities can be harder, but I love the challenge.”
Rawlins said that he looks at his cadets equally. “I don’t try to look at them as ‘oh you’re a man and you’re a woman. Everybody is important, so as long as we keep diversifying the military, it’s a good thing.”
After graduating this spring, Frantz will join the Army, working in the equipment maintenance unit. She said being a female in the military does not cause her to reconsider her career path. “There are times when it’s difficult, but I grew up around boys, I grew up in the military. I can do pretty much anything a man can do.”