SRU women soldiers lead the charge
June 23, 2015
SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Who says women aren't tough enough for the Army? Certainly no one at Slippery Rock University, where women are in integral part of ROTC, train alongside men and earn commissions as second lieutenants in proportionately higher percentages than women in the regular Army.
Female interest in the services is reflected in SRU's military science enrollment. For the coming fall, 40 of 151 first-year students (26 percent) who signed up for "American Military Experience" are women. Five of the 16 new ROTC cadets (31 percent) - are women.
"We have come a long way, proved our worth to this nation and have many great women leaders to thank for getting us to where we are today," said 2nd
Lt. Kristin Corradini, a May SRU exercise science graduate and newly commissioned Army officer. "Every day there is a woman taking it upon herself to show the disbelievers, that we are just as smart, physically fit and effective as any other male soldier."
Graduates from Army ROTC become active-duty or National Guard soldiers. Corradini serves as a medical officer for the 128th Charlie Company in Pittsburgh and plans to attend the Basic Officer Leadership Course in Texas in August.
"It's important to have women in the Army and also as officers for the same reason it is to have men in the Army and as officers," Corradini said. "We play a crucial role in the military, just like anyone else who joins. One of the things I have learned in the Army is there are no women and men; there are soldiers."
SRU's female force outpaces national averages. According to U.S. Army, the percentage of female officers in the Army in the ranks of second lieutenant through major was 14.6 percent in 2013. Of the Army's total fighting force, 16.3 percent were female as of 2014, up from 9.8 percent in 1983.
At SRU, 17.1 percent of ROTC graduates since 1984 - 53 of 309 ¬- have been women.
Since 2005, 22 of 99 ROTC graduates - 22.2 percent - have been women. 1984 was the first year ROTC students graduated.
An SRU pioneer in this area was Navy Capt. Kathleen Contres, '76, who became the highest-ranking Hispanic line officer on activity duty. She retired from the Navy in 2010 after 30 years of service and has spoken at Slippery Rock graduation.
"Women need the support of other women and also the support of their fellow male comrades because we are one team one fight, and that's how to be a successful unit. As I said before, it's not about male or female, it's about soldiers," Corradini said. "We are all soldiers fighting for the same reasons, to keep this country free and safe."
As of 2014, 78 percent of Army positions were open to women, and women serve in 95 percent of Army occupations, including combat assignments.
"I knew that women were a minority in the Army, and oddly enough, I liked that. I liked that I could prove people wrong, that I could be just as good as any other male soldier, but I also knew my limitations as a woman," Corradini said. "I never necessarily saw myself as a barrier breaker, but more as a motivator for women in the Army."
The band of sisters has served with distinction.
"More than 160 women have given their lives in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Two women have been awarded the Silver Star, one of our nation's highest combat decorations," said Army Captain Joseph Barrow, SRU assistant professor of military science who has received more than 10 medals and commendations, including the Bronze Star.
"All soldiers, both men and women, have answered the same call to serve," he said. "I've served with some phenomenal soldiers, some happened to be male and some happened to be female, all I considered brothers and sisters." We look for people that adhere to the Army values of loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage. We want the best America has to offer, both men and women."
With more women embracing the military and looking to bolster their leadership skills, women cadets in ROTC at SRU said the program meets their expectations.
SRU divides ROTC into two parts: the basic course and advanced course. The basic course, which students can take their first two years, does not require a commitment to the Army. Courses survey military history, national defense and leadership.
After completion of the basic course, students who demonstrate the potential to become an officer and who have met the physical and scholastic standards are eligible to enroll in the advanced course.
Corradini said she never encountered a double standard in ROTC. She said the Army's only gender expectation difference involves its physical fitness test. For men, the requirement for meeting the top bracket for events includes 75 push-ups, 78 sit-ups and a 2-mile run in 13 minutes. For women, the top bracket requires 46 push-ups, 78 sit-ups and a 2-mile in 15 minutes.
"Females are never exempt from any training unless there is a medical concern, which is the same for me," she said.
SRU student Maggie Manochio, a criminology and criminal justice major from Kent, Ohio, said the "American Military Experience" class and a scholarship offer steered her toward an official contract with the Army.
The decision to pursue a military career had a number of challenges. "There was a lot of new information coming out about the sexual assault problems in the military that had my mom extremely worried," she said.
"I have to admit that it does make me nervous some times thinking that it could happen to me, but I wasn't going to let that stop me from pursuing something that I am determined to excel at," she said. "I think that any woman in the military can be a barrier breaker, they just have to be willing to go above and beyond their expectations. I want to be one of those women, I want society to change the negative connotation they may have about women being in the armed forces and show them that we are an asset, not a liability."
Manochio said gender diversifies the military, strengthening its unity.
"Men and women are very different, so it is important for the Army to have every kind of officer and leader that they can to make the force better," she said. "Everyone brings different ideas and strengths to the table that others may not have and I think that's what makes the Army so great is their willingness to have diversity and different ideas."
Many cadets at SRU minor in leadership and participate in programs such as Ranger Challenge, Color Guard and Frontier Leadership Assessment Group.
"I have learned so much being in ROTC that I don't think I would have learned easily not being in it," she said. "Going through the program helps make you a better and stronger leader, student and overall person. They do teach you the obvious military things like tactics and shooting a weapon, which can be both fun and frustrating."
Rachel Brobeck, a criminology and criminal justice major from Burke, Va., said she decided to join ROTC after her senior year of high school. She said she talked it over with her father and the military clicked for her.
"I wouldn't say that my gender had anything to do with the decision, except made me think of potential setbacks it could have," she said. "All women in the military are barrier breakers, because we are the ones out there actually making way for women in this field rather than conforming to social norms of a women's job.
She said women provide a different perspective then men.
"Women bring a different way of leading and thinking that men don't necessarily have," she said. "We give a different view point and challenge the traditional set-in-stone ways. There is definitely a place for women in the Army, whether it is in the medical field, or on the battlefield, there are women breaking stereotypes, setting new standards, and paving the way for future female soldiers."
She said SRU has been supportive and encouraging of not only women but also the whole ROTC program. President Cheryl Norton has come to a lot of ROTC functions, she said.
"Slippery Rock University provides a great training atmosphere for its cadets. There is a lot more hands on training that I didn't expect from a smaller school," Brobeck said. "Maybe I can't fight on the front lines but I am pretty damn close to it."
Brobeck expects to receive her commission and assignment in 2018. She is thinking about an engineering branch but also airborne or ranger school.
LeAnn Penn, a biology major from Cortland, Ohio, said she decided to join ROTC
two weeks before starting classes. Her father, a Marine, inspired her to become an officer.
"I would like for women training today to become Army soldiers and officers to always remember the women that paved the way for us to be here. They sacrificed and overcame the gender barrier through grace and hard work."
Penn said she doesn't feel any limitations to what she can accomplish.
"I understand that there are physical differences between men and women, but those differences also make me a better member of the team," she said. "This also helps me understand how to lead from the front while not always being the fastest or strongest teammate."
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