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Women Soldiers Contribute to 36th Infantry Division Mission

By Spc. Kia Riddley-Colbert, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

ALI AIR BASE, Iraq, Aug. 25, 2005 – When the Texas National Guard's 36th Infantry Division was reactivated for Operation Iraqi Freedom, standing within the units ranks were female soldiers.

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Army Spc. Janie Reyna, a member of the 56th Brigade Combat Team, 36th Infantry Division, Texas Army National Guard, holds an Iraqi child she befriended during a civil affairs mission in southern Iraq. Photo by Master Sgt. Lek Mateo, USA
  

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The war in Iraq has changed the way battles are fought, and women soldiers realize that the front line can be anywhere. Enemy fighters are using improvised explosive devices that do not distinguish between male and female targets.

Staff Sgt. Michelle Thompson, of Denton, Texas, and a medic with the 56th Brigade Combat Team, 36th ID, said that her father served as an Army paratrooper in World War II and that she is proud to be able to serve in the same branch of service as he did.

Thompson explained that the military has changed over the time since her father served. In the past, women performed jobs as nurses or built airplanes in factories, she said. But now they are able to serve beside the men in Iraq.

"I think men and women soldiers work well together as a team," Thompson said. "I hope we are thought of as equals by our male counterparts."

Spc. Janie Reyna, of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 56th BCT, never thought she would go off to war or be a part of history.

The Plainview, Texas, native now finds herself visiting remote Iraqi villages and camps with the brigade civil affairs team to help distribute donated food, shoes and school supplies from America.

Reyna said she enjoys going out to the villages to see the children, who she has come to love. She added that it was hard at first for her to see all the poverty and squalid conditions the children had to live in. "I just hope that we are able to make a better future for the children," Reyna said. "They are the ones that going to grow up and hopefully be the leaders of Iraq one day."

Spc. Sarah Garner, of Austin, Texas, assigned to HHC, 56th BCT, has rarely traveled outside of the "wire" that surrounds the large coalition base where she works as a communications specialist. She said she did not know much about the history of the 36th ID until she arrived in Iraq but felt honored to be a part of history.

The specialist emphasized that the female soldiers of the unit know they are contributing to the mission even though they work in an office environment and are not as exposed to the dangers of being on the highways or in the large towns and cities as many soldiers.

She explained that all soldiers accept the dangerous duty they perform and are used to working long, hard hours, but being able to communicate with their loved ones back home makes a big difference in their morale. She added that helping other soldiers maintain contact with their family members feels rewarding.

"I think that being able to call home, write home and e-mail home is very important to soldiers' morale," Garner said. "I am glad I can help them stay in touch with their loved ones."

(Army Spc. Kia Riddley-Colbert is assigned to the 56th Brigade Combat Team, Texas Army National Guard.)

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36th Infantry Division

Click photo for screen-resolution imageArmy Spc. Sarah Garner, a member of the 56th Brigade Combat Team, 36th Infantry Division, Texas Army National Guard, greets an Iraqi girl she met during a visit to the village of Batha, in southern Iraq. Photo by Master Sgt. Lek Mateo, USA  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageArmy Spc. Janie Reyna, a member of the 56th Brigade Combat Team, 36th Infantry Division, Texas Army National Guard, gives an Iraqi boy a picture of himself during a civil affairs mission to check on the construction status of a school being built in the village of Sulayhat, in southern Iraq. Photo by Master Sgt. Lek Mateo, USA  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageArmy Staff Sgt. Michelle L. Thompson, a medic with the 56th Brigade Combat Team, 36th Infantry Division, Texas Army National Guard, helps a young Iraqi put on his seatbelt before a flight to Kuwait on a British Royal Air Force C-130J Hercules cargo plane of No. 24 Squadron, based at Wiltshire, England. The father and son were traveling to Houston for medical treatment. Photo by Master Sgt. Lek Mateo, USA  
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