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Face of Defense: Former WAC Serves in Iraq

By Chanel S. Weaver
American Forces Press Service

BAGHDAD, Oct. 2, 2009 – Some people turn to reference books or the Internet for a lesson in military history, but the personnel at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Gulf Region Division in Iraq have another option.

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Thirty-six years after enlisting in the Women’s Army Corps, Pat Riley poses for a pre-deployment photo before heading to Iraq. Riley is serving a six-month assignment as a realty specialist for the Gulf Region Division, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Iraq. U.S. Army photo
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

They simply can have a conversation with Pat Riley.

Riley enlisted in the Women’s Army Corps in June 1973. She was a member of the last all-female basic training class at Fort McClellan, Ala. Thirty-six years later, she still serves her country, but this time as a Gulf Region Division civilian.

Riley said a lot has changed for women in the Army since the 1970s. She enjoys telling stories of her early days in the Women’s Army Corps.

“When I joined the Army, a woman had only two career choices: she could either enter the medical or clerical field,” she said.

Women not only had few career choices in the 1970s, but also had classes in applying make-up during basic training, but no classes in soldiering skills, Riley said. Sexual harassment, she added, was prevalent in the Army during the 1970s.

“One boss literally chased me around the desk and made continuous sexual innuendos,” she recalled.

Today, Riley is pleased to see sexual harassment prevention classes are mandatory for all Army personnel. She also is amazed to see the diverse career opportunities now available for women in the Army.

“I think it’s just wonderful to see that women have progressed so much in the military,” she said. “Today, a woman can choose almost any career field she wants. Women are truck drivers and mechanics, among many other things. For example, when I flew to Iraq from Kuwait, the crew chief was a female. We have come a long way.”

Riley said believes today’s female servicemembers stand on the shoulders of the brave women who served before them. She’s not the only one in her family with a history of serving her country; her sister is a Navy veteran.

“I think women like my sister and I paved the way and opened the door for the women of today,” she said.

Both Riley and her sister served during Operation Desert Storm as well as the present operations in Iraq. Riley said their mother once remarked, “You know the world has changed when you are buying kitchen gadgets for your sons and worrying about whether your daughters are going to war.”

Riley, a Colorado native, is permanently assigned to the Alaska District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. She volunteered for a six-month assignment to support the Iraqi reconstruction effort a few months ago. “After the attacks on Sept. 11, I wanted to do something patriotic,” she said.

Her wish was granted when she was selected for a position as a realty specialist with the Gulf Region Division. She ensures that land leased by the U.S. government is returned to its original owners and processes claims for landowners to be compensated for the U.S. government’s use of their property.

Although Riley no longer is in uniform, she said, her job as a civilian is rewarding.

“GRD has an important mission in rebuilding Iraq,” said Riley. “The work here is very interesting, and I am pleased to be a part of it.”

The Gulf Region Division has completed thousands of reconstruction projects in partnership with the U.S. government and the government of Iraq. Since 2004, the division has completed 5,257 projects throughout Iraq valued at more than $8.9 billion, and has 361 projects ongoing.

(Chanel S. Weaver works for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Gulf Region Division in Iraq.)

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Related Sites:
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Gulf Region Division

Click photo for screen-resolution imagePat Riley sits in a tent during an Army exercise in Ansbach, Germany, in 1975. Photo courtesy of Pat Riley  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imagePat Riley poses for an official Army portrait at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Ind., soon after enlisting in the Women’s Army Corps in June 1973. Photo courtesy of Pat Riley  
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