Officer is 1st Woman to Lead Brigade's Ops


Maj. Sonja Granger Dyer doesn't like to think of herself as a trailblazer for women in the Army.

She just likes to think of herself as being good at her job as a soldier.

Dyer, 38, is the first woman ever to serve as an operations officer for a combat brigade in Army history, Fort Bliss officials said.

She has been serving in that role for the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, since last September.

Her duties are to oversee the training of about 2,900 soldiers in the brigade -- ranging from simple weapons ranges to company-, battalion- and brigade-level live-fire exercises.

"Women have been in the Army for a long time," Dyer said. "So many women before me have made great strides, and this is just a small one in a bigger piece of pie."

Maj. Gen. Dana J.H. Pittard, the commander for Fort Bliss and the 1st Armored Division, said being a brigade operations officer is an important job that usually goes to the best major in the unit. The major chosen for that job is also considered capable of being a brigade commander in the future, he said.

"That's really significant," Pittard said.

Dyer said she is occupying what was once considered a male-only slot. But that's all changing.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced in late January that all military jobs, including combat roles, are opening up to women. The new rules will be phased in by 2016.

The media and public tend to jump ahead and start talking about women immediately joining the Special Forces, Dyer said.

"They want to go to the hardest thing ever, straight to 'G.I. Jane,' " Dyer said. "But hold on, guys. Let's do this the right way and don't just go for the shock value of Special Forces operator."

Dyer also said it's important for the standards not to change.

"For obvious reasons, that won't work," she said.

It's important for women to be integrated first into smaller roles such as field artillery, infantry and combat engineers, she said.

"But I don't want it to be too slow," she said.

Opening up all roles, including combat, to women is a no-brainer, Dyer added.

"It's absolutely what needs to happen," she said. "There shouldn't be limitations. If you can do the job, do the job. It doesn't matter if you are male or female. We wear the same uniform every day."

Dyer, a Pennsylvania native, has been in the Army since 1997. Previously, she served as the battalion operations officer for Special Troops Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, also at Fort Bliss.

She's also been deployed twice -- once to Iraq and once to Afghanistan. She's been stationed at Fort Bliss for about two years now.

"Really, when it comes to duties and assignments, a lot of it is timing," Dyer said. "The timing was right for this job."

She cited her former brigade commander, Col. Mark H. Landes, with the 3rd Brigade, for recommending her for her current post.

Like most other women, Dyer wears many hats.

She's a wife and mother. Her husband, Maj. Charles Dyer, is a reservist at Fort Bliss. She also has three children -- Kaleb, 13; Katelynn, 3; and Kollyn, 2.

For any working mother, there is no time to relax when you get home, she said.

"You go home and you have to have that second job," she said. "Kids are 24/7. You have to go home and take a deep breath. Next, the kids."

The most important thing for anyone in the Army is to be able to balance his or her life, she said.

"Where that pendulum is, where that fulcrum is, is important," she said. "And it's different every day. Some days, I'm focused on my kids and other days, it's all work. When I was in Afghanistan, I was 90 percent work."

She has a bachelor's degree in health science and athletic training from Lock Haven University in Pennsylvania. She originally wanted to be an athletic trainer, but was drawn to the Army because of the constant challenges, she said.

She is working on a master's degree in homeland security from American Military University.

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