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Oklahoma Guard's 1st Female Combat Arms Officer Conducts Fire Missions

  • 1st Lt. Kayla Christopher, fire direction officer, works with fellow officers to calculate distance and trajectories to targets while planning a fire mission for the battery during training at Fort Riley, Kansas. (U.S. Army/Sgt. Anthony Jones)
    1st Lt. Kayla Christopher, fire direction officer, works with fellow officers to calculate distance and trajectories to targets while planning a fire mission for the battery during training at Fort Riley, Kansas. (U.S. Army/Sgt. Anthony Jones)
  • Soldiers of Bravo Battery fire their howitzer during a fire mission coordinated by 1st Lt. Kayla Christopher, the Oklahoma Army National Guard's first qualified female field artillery officer, at Fort Riley, Kansas. (U.S. Army/Sgt. Anthony Jones)
    Soldiers of Bravo Battery fire their howitzer during a fire mission coordinated by 1st Lt. Kayla Christopher, the Oklahoma Army National Guard's first qualified female field artillery officer, at Fort Riley, Kansas. (U.S. Army/Sgt. Anthony Jones)

FORT RILEY, Kan. — "FIRE MISSION! FIRE MISSION! FIRE MISSION!" The call to action rang out across the artillery gun line and without hesitation Soldiers sprang into action.

One cannon crew member dashed to the nearby ammunition stockpile and began preparing a shell while another checked the big gun's sights as targeting information was relayed to their section.

Moments later, the command, "FIRE," was shouted and with a thunderous boom the Soldiers operating Gun 1, Bravo Battery, 1st Battalion, 160th Field Artillery Regiment, 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, sent their shell hurtling toward its final destination — an impact area on Fort Riley, Kansas.

Three more cracks of thunder came from the gun line as the other sections sent their rounds downrange. Then, as quickly as the fire mission began, it was over.

The Soldiers performed their jobs with the clock-like precision needed in field artillery, without any mention of the uniqueness of the mission they had just carried out.

That uniqueness comes from the officer who helped coordinate the mission, 1st Lt. Kayla Christopher, the Oklahoma Army National Guard's first qualified female field artillery officer.

"[The Guard] has entrusted me to do something no one has done before," said Christopher, of Oklahoma City. "It makes me incredibly proud that they would trust me to do that, and I will do it to the best of my ability."

Christopher has served with the Oklahoma Army National Guard for several years, beginning as a personnel officer with the 45th Field Artillery Brigade before her commander suggested the move into combat arms.

"My boss called me into his office and asked if I had thought about re-branching," Christopher remembered, recalling that at the time she had considered moving into logistics or finance. "He said, 'No, have you thought about field artillery?'"

The next day, Christopher agreed to make the jump into combat arms. That decision led her to making Oklahoma history and coordinating the Fort Riley fire mission.

That move was made possible by the Dec. 3, 2015 directive by Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter to open all military occupational specialties to all Soldiers, regardless of gender, opening 220,000 positions to females across the Department of Defense.

Christopher now serves as Bravo Battery's fire direction officer and is responsible for coordinating with forward observers to identify target locations, the Battery's location and ensuring that their outgoing fire is safe.

The Army's method to integrate females into combat military occupation specialties focuses on leaders like Christopher. Female officers are assigned to combat arms units first, then noncommissioned officers and, finally, junior enlisted Soldiers.

Capt. Robert Riddle, commander of Bravo Battery, said there has been no operational difficulties integrating Christopher into the battery.

"Kayla came in with a learning attitude. She understands not only is it a new role for her, but it is a new role for women in field artillery," Riddle said. "She understands the expectations of her, but is still humble enough to ask questions when needed to meet her expectations as well as the expectations of others."

Christopher's road to becoming the first qualified female field artillery officer started at home. She states her family has a long tradition of serving the nation.

"I have a huge military tradition and there is already a precedent for women in my family being in the military, so it never struck me as being weird," Christopher said. "My grandma and grandpa were in the Navy. My dad was in the Marines and my uncles and cousins and other grandfather were all Army."

Christopher said she has not experienced any of the criticism or discrimination she was warned about when joining a combat arms branch. While attending the qualification course, she was the only female in her class, the only lieutenant, and the only National Guard officer. She attended the course while also completing her Master's degree from the University of Oklahoma.

Shortly after joining Bravo Battery, Christopher said the Soldiers were cautious out of a fear of offending her.

"They've been really welcoming," said Christopher. "The first drill or so it seemed everyone was walking on eggshells, but I told them to stop and just to do what they do."

Christopher said she hasn't been in the position long enough to offer any "sage advice" to other females looking to join field artillery, but wanted to reassure them Oklahoma Army National Guard Soldiers will always support them.

"We have a professional organization," Christopher said. "I haven't faced any of the issues people told me I might. My advice to other women who are thinking about doing this is don't be scared of what people might tell you."

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