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U.S. Army Sergeant: 'Excited,' 'Intrigued,' By Women Completing Ranger Course

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

To some extent, this is a vindication for some women who have already served in combat situations. Sergeant Janiece Marquez is a veteran who has worked alongside Green Berets. She was most recently on active duty in 2012 in the Kunar Province of Afghanistan. As a civilian, she's currently working in Monrovia, Liberia, on Ebola response. Welcome to the program.

SERGEANT JANIECE MARQUEZ: Thank you very much, Audie. How are you?

CORNISH: Good. I want to start just with your reaction to the news of these two women graduating from this very grueling training.

MARQUEZ: My first reaction is excitement because these women are doing something that we've been told for so long that we're not capable of doing. And then to see these two women go forward and complete it is just absolutely amazing to me, so I'm very excited. And now I'm intrigued because I want to know what the decision-makers will decide, what conclusions will they make about opening all occupational specialties to women.

CORNISH: And we want to remind people, women can serve in support roles. And, in fact, you actually served in an elite all-female support team that went through a very difficult training as well. What did that job require on paper?

MARQUEZ: So we were called cultural support teams, and they were women who were assigned to special operations units, so Green Berets and Ranger Regiment. I, in particular, went the Green Beret route. Now, our job was to engage with women and children in populations where women weren't necessarily allowed to speak with the opposite gender. And so to bridge that gap of information between coalition forces and the local population, they sent us out into these villages.

CORNISH: And then I'm sure there were combat situations, right, where you actually were doing responsibilities that blurred those lines.

MARQUEZ: So one story in particular is my partner and I, we get up one morning to go on patrol. So we go out to the local community and we would knock on the doors where we knew women and children were living, go inside and just have a conversation. Well, as - we get a call on the radio telling us that it's time to go and so we go and we get back into the trucks. Well, no sooner do we hit - get back on the road, we hit an IED and we start taking small arms fire from the local mountain. So instead of just being an enabler and saying, OK, well, my job is only to engage with women and children, what we instead did was that we got out and we fought right alongside the guys. And we became a part of the operation, so it was combat.

CORNISH: Sergeant Marquez, I want you to hear this comment from Admiral Eric Olson. He's the former head of the military Special Operations Command. Here's what he had to say about this effort to have women in these roles - training in these roles. Here's what he had to say back in spring.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ERIC OLSON: I'm sorry, but men and women are different. They're physiologically different and they are psychologically different. They just are. There's a lot of scientific basis behind that.

CORNISH: What's your reaction to this? 'Cause I suspect that there are many people out there who will have this question about women on the front lines that it's about the day in, day out physical requirements of being in those jobs, in those combat jobs.

MARQUEZ: Well, first, I'll say that I do agree that men and women are different. Nobody is arguing that anymore. I think that's well understood. Now, I think instead of coming forth and saying they're different and that's a negative, we can say yes, they're different, but that's a positive and turn it into a positive. A lot of the conversation going around is talking about being able to carry heavy equipment.

CORNISH: There's a lot of emphasis on that. It seems like that's an important part of it.

MARQUEZ: Yeah. Well, I also disagree that it's important is because - so I fought next to men who are smaller than myself. And I'll tell you I'm 100 pounds and I stand at five-foot-1. So I'm not very big, but I have worked alongside infantrymen and other types of soldiers that I was more capable of, but because of a gender difference, he was allotted different opportunities than I was. Not to say he was stronger, just to say he was a different gender. So I don't think that it's relevant to be able to carry heavy equipment this day and age because of the types of wars we're fighting. We need to be able to maneuver quickly and carrying heavy equipment doesn't necessarily balance us out with our future enemies.

CORNISH: Sergeant Janiece Marquez - she's the CEO of Stable Outcomes. We reached her in Monrovia, Liberia, where she's doing humanitarian assistance and community rehabilitation. Thanks so much for talking with us.

MARQUEZ: Thanks, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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