Sgt. 1st Class Erin Smith of the Idaho Army National Guard became the nation’s first female enlisted soldier to graduate from the U.S. Army’s M1 Armor Crewman School, June 25.
Smith has gone shoulder-to-shoulder with her male peers through the technically and physically demanding “19 Kilo” Army Military Occupational Skill curriculum, administered by the 1st of the 204th Regional Training Institute’s Armor Training Battalion located in Boise, Idaho.
Until recently, females have historically been prohibited from serving in combat roles within the various branches of the U.S. Armed Forces. However, in December of 2015, Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced that the U.S. military would open all positions to women, without exception. This means those occupational skills previously off limits to females, like infantry and armor, are now open to both women and men who can meet the standards set by the different military services.
“I was interested in the idea of being an Army tanker long before talk about integration so when the opportunity came up I decided to go for it,” Smith said. “It was intimidating at first—the fear of failure or not being good enough—but it's been an awesome experience.”
An M1 armor crewman is responsible for operating armored equipment such as the M1A1 and M1A2 Abrams tanks, in maneuvering against and destroying enemy targets.
19K armor crewman graduates must demonstrate expertise in operating the Abrams tank over varied terrain while using hi-tech communications equipment to receive and relay battle orders. Additionally, qualified crew members must be able to load and fire the tank’s direct fire weapons in addition to reading maps and operating the targeting acquisition system. Tankers must also possess a thorough understanding of the art and science of U.S. military combat doctrine.
“Any doubts I had about not being accepted or being treated different I no longer have. My peers, the leadership and instructors throughout the training have all been extremely supportive,” Smith said. “I would encourage any interested female to talk with her leadership and pursue being a 19K.
Nationally, hundreds of thousands of women have served alongside men in Iraq and Afghanistan – more than 280,000 having deployed over the last decade. The Idaho Army National Guard is a force of nearly 3,000 personnel, with just under 400 females currently serving; slightly less than the 15% average of the rest of the U.S. military.
“We’re an all-volunteer force, so we need access to every talented Idahoan who can bring something to the fight, whether female or male,” said Brig. Gen. John Goodale, assistant adjutant general and commander of the Idaho Army National Guard. “Our military is always adapting and implementing change. This is how we remain relevant and ready to address both global threats abroad and local emergencies here at home.”
Smith enlisted in the Idaho Army National Guard as a combat medic in 2001 and served on a tour to Bosnia in 2002 with the 183rd Aviation Battalion, headquartered in Boise, Idaho. She deployed again to Iraq in 2004 with the Idaho National Guard’s 116th Brigade Combat Team in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom III.
As the first female 19K M1 Armor Crewman School graduate in the nation, Smith will serve as a mentor and leader of future female enlisted combat professionals in the Idaho Army National Guard.
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