Army’s First Women Serving As Infantry Soldiers Get Chance To “One-Up” Men

FORT BENNING, Georgia (CBS News) — The young Army infantry recruits lined up in full combat gear, guns at the ready. At the signal, a soldier in front kicked in the door and they burst into the room, swiveling to check around the walls for threats.

“You’re dead,” one would-be enemy yelled out from a dark corner, the voice slightly higher than the others echoing through the building.

It was 18-year-old Kirsten, training to become one of the Army’s first women serving as infantry soldiers.

“I want to be one of the females to prove to everybody else that just because you’re a female, doesn’t mean you can’t do the same things as a male,” she said, describing her brother — an infantry soldier — as motivation. “I also wanted to one-up him.”

Kirsten is among more than 80 women who have gone to recruit training at Fort Benning, Georgia, since a ban on them serving in combat jobs was lifted. Twenty-two have graduated. More than 30 were still in training late last month, working toward graduation. The recruits’ last names are being withheld by The Associated Press because some women have faced bullying on social media.

Somewhat smaller in stature than some of her male comrades, Kirsten gave up a Division I soccer scholarship to become an infantry soldier. In body armor, helmet and rucksack, she looks like just any other grunt.

A bunkmate, Gabriella, says the women push each other.

“Today, during our ruck march we were, like, directly across from each other and I would constantly look over at her,” Gabriella said of Kirsten. “We kinda just kept looking at each other and we’re, like, all right, we’re both doing it, we’re passing these guys and stuff. We definitely have goals to be better than the guys.”

The Army’s introduction of women into the infantry has moved steadily but cautiously this year. As home to the previously all-male infantry and armor schools, Fort Benning had to make $35 million in renovations, including female dorm rooms, security cameras, and monitoring stations.

Laundry was an early challenge.

For years, the men washed clothes any time at night. Now, there are alarms and schedules. A “female” sign goes on the door when needed.

The women also balked at the early plan to put their living quarters on a separate floor from their squadmates. So base leaders now use one of four main sleeping bays to house the women. Cameras keep constant watch on the bay door and the stairs, and there’s always a woman at the monitoring station.

“There’s nothing they dislike more than to be separated,” said Col. Kelly Kendrick, the brigade commander. He said the women just want to “fit in and do the same as everybody else.”

Read more, and see video and pictures, here.