FORT BENNING, Ga. – Four female soldiers, including two with the Army National Guard, made history here Aug. 1 when they became the first women in the Army to obtain the 91A M1 Abrams Tank System Maintainer military occupational specialty.
Pfc. Emma Briggs, the honor graduate of the course, is in the 737th Support Company, Ohio Army National Guard. Pvt. Erika L. Leroy is with the California Army National Guard. They graduated with Pfc. Anna Ramirez and Pvt. Kaitlin Killsnight from the 91A course conducted by E Company, 3rd Battalion, 81st Armor Regiment, 194th Armored Brigade.
Both Briggs and Leroy said they did not know they were going to be the first female Abrams maintainers until they arrived at Fort Benning.
"I didn't know I was going to be one of the first females until I got to basic training, and one of the drill sergeants mentioned it to me and told me how hard it was going to be," said Leroy, a San Diego native.
Briggs, of Cincinnati, said she had no prior mechanical experience before coming to the course, but that she was eager to learn.
"When I first joined, it was kind of a process of elimination," Briggs said. "I was given a lot of choices, anywhere from a human resources job to other types of desk and supply jobs. I have no mechanic background, but I was excited to learn. It's awesome to be a female and know some of these things, and maybe I'll be able to translate this into some kind of car mechanics or even go into that field in the future."
Briggs and Leroy attended basic training together, where they formed a friendship that both said has been beneficial to them throughout the tank maintainer training.
Leroy said watching Briggs complete tasks helped to make her more confident.
"I didn't know how to act or how to handle the stress of knowing that you're going to be picking up a 110-pound part, but watching her do it made me believe that I could do it," Leroy said.
Both Briggs and Leroy also said they were able to lean on Killsnight and Ramirez when times got tough.
"We've all become very close and we have a very good relationship," Briggs said. "We are very good at working together, and that has really helped us all because sometimes it takes a team of females to get on the tank and take care of it since you have heavy equipment and heavy stuff on the tank."
Army Staff Sgt. Jahi Foster, one of the 91A instructors, said Briggs' willpower was what set her apart from the rest of the class.
"She had a lot of self-motivation and she came in with the same attitude every day," Foster said. "A lot of the students have problems and they've been here for months dealing with things, but she always came out with the same hard-charging, ready-to-go attitude every day."
Briggs said she had no idea she was going to be the honor graduate until the class was put through an obstacle course.
"My sergeants were kind of helping to motivate me during it by saying things like, 'Come on, distinguished honor graduate,' so the whole company knew the same time I did," she said. "I had no idea."
With the course at an end, the four soldiers must now prepare for the responsibility of working on Abrams tanks in a real-world setting.
"It's a lot of responsibility to take in, but I'm pretty confident," Leroy said. "I know my material, and hopefully I'll be able to come back here and show more females that they can do this and give them someone to relate to."