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FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- Pvt. Cicely Verstein, 21, did not give much thought to her place in history when she enlisted in the Army. The Pennsylvania native said she was looking for a job she thought was interesting, but will soon become the first woman in the Army to repair the Bradley Fighting Vehicle.
Last May, the Army announced plans to begin implementing a new Defense Department policy that could place women in as many as 14,000 combat-related jobs by opening up six military occupational specialties. Among those positions were Soldiers trained to maintain the 91M Bradley Fighting Vehicle System, which provides mobile protected transport to infantry squads to critical points on the battlefield.
In November, Verstein began Basic Combat Training at Fort Jackson with Company A, 3rd Battalion, 34th Infantry Regiment and will become the first female to fill this military occupational specialty. Now five weeks into training, she said her family is still a little confused about her new role.
"They're proud of me," she said. "They don't really know what to make of my being the first woman to do this, but they're excited for everything happening for me."
It was never her intention to be a trailblazer, she said. When the opportunity for the job presented itself, she simply applied for it. She said she has always had an interest in automotives and used to race go karts, so the job just looked "interesting."
She said she never gave much thought to being the first woman in a previously closed-off MOS until after she was accepted for training.
"It made me nervous," she said. "It's a lot of pressure." Gender-integrated training isn't a new concept at Fort Jackson, said Capt. John Teschner, commander for Co. A, 3-34th.
"I've seen no issues with gender-integrated training in the year that I've been in command," Teschner said. "When it comes to military occupational specialties, it's not that we don't care about it, but we treat them as combat armed Soldiers first and foremost."
Soldiers with various jobs, from Bradley Fighting Vehicle mechanics to cooks, are on the front lines in Afghanistan, so the goal is to train all Soldiers to be combat ready, he said.
"The enemy doesn't disseminate on your MOS, so we treat everyone the same, regardless of race, sex or MOS," he said.
Verstein said she's wanted to join the Army since she was 16 years old. She spent a few years working and going to college, but none of it felt right, she said.
"School wasn't working out, and I still wanted to join as much as I did when I graduated high school. I thought it was a great choice for me," she said.
"She's got the same issue as other Soldiers, and she's adapting to training the same as the other Soldiers," Teschner said. "It doesn't faze us that she's one of the first female Bradley mechanic Soldiers. That's the great thing about the atmosphere created here by our chain of command here at Fort Jackson. When she gets to her unit of assignment, there shouldn't' be any hesitation on her part to get in there and do her job."
"It's totally different than from what I thought it would be," Verstein said. "I thought I'd be miserable most of the time, but I've had a great time, so far. I've had my struggles here, but I'm enjoying my time. I've made a lot of new friends, and it's been a great experience, overall."