Second Lt. Ashley Hurd is no stranger to the armor world.
For the past eight years, she's served as part of the 30th Armored Brigade Combat Team, based in Clinton, as a track mechanic.
But now, Hurd has a new role within the brigade. She is the unit's first female armor officer. And the first female armor officer in the North Carolina National Guard.
Hurd, of Hope Mills, and another brand-new second lieutenant who became the state's first female infantry officer, broke barriers when they were commissioned at Fort Bragg on Saturday.
State leaders welcomed the pair as part of an Officer Candidate School graduation at Kennedy Hall that was hosted by the North Carolina Military Academy.
The two women were commissioned following an accelerated OCS class, they said. They were among 19 new officers welcomed into the NCNG.
The soldiers said becoming officers have helped them reach important milestones in their careers, but neither said they necessarily wanted the attention that comes with being barrier breakers.
"It's actually a bit terrifying," Hurd said. "I'm not doing this to be a first in anything."
The new rank, she said, comes with a huge responsibility, not just as a leader of soldiers, but as an example for other female soldiers to follow.
"I want to do well," Hurd said. "I want to prove myself."
Hurd, originally from Victorville, California, joined the Army in 2006 and deployed to Iraq the next year. She joined the NCNG in 2011.
The state's first female infantry officer is also a veteran of the force.
Caitlin, whom the NCNG has asked not be fully identified because of the nature of her civilian job, joined the Army in 2004 and served on active duty in military intelligence until last year.
Caitlin said she had wanted to join the infantry as soon as the Army opened positions within the branch to women in recent years, but was not allowed because of her rank.
A former sergeant first class, she declined a promotion in order to join the NCNG and pursue a new path in a job previously denied to her and said she hopes to eventually go to Special Forces Assessment and Selection.
The two officers said they have not been treated any differently than their male counterparts and hoped that would continue to be the case.
"I do not want to be a poster girl," Caitlin said.
Hurd agreed. She said she would except nothing short of the highest standards from herself and hoped that mentality would be shared by the soldiers in her new platoon.
After attending Basic Officer Leaders Course at Fort Benning, Georgia, both officers will be assigned to units within the 30th Armored Brigade Combat Team.
Hurd will serve with the 1st Combat Arms Battalion, 252nd Armor Regiment, which is headquartered in Fayetteville. Caitlin will serve with the 1st Battalion, 120th Infantry Regiment, which is headquartered in Wilmington.
On Saturday, Brig. Gen. Todd Hunt, the NCNG's Assistant Adjutant General for Maneuver, offered them and the other new lieutenants advice for the newest phase of their military careers.
"This is not an easy business," Hunt said, as he spoke of the greater responsibility and challenges that will come with being an officer.
"You'll be watched by your soldiers like you've never been before," he said.
Hunt said he expects each of the officers to be the standard bearers of character and professionalism in their units.
He asked them to listen to their soldiers, to be experts in their fields and to lead with purpose.
"This is a tough business but a rewarding one, for sure," Hunt said.
Hurd and Caitlin are part of the 12,000 soldiers and airmen of the NCNG. And each said they hoped more women would follow their footsteps into the armor and infantry officer ranks.
Hurd has three children, including two girls, and said she wants to set an example for them, that anything is possible if they work hard enough.
"There are rewards for setting goals and accomplishing them," she said.
Hurd said she wants to be the type of leader that inspires others to never quit. And a leader that doesn't ask anything of others that she herself wouldn't do.
Caitlin said her experiences as a noncommissioned officer would help direct her efforts as an officer.
"I want to do what's best for the soldiers," she said.
"If you're just doing this to be the first," Caitlin added, "you're doing it for the wrong reason."
The NCNG now has female officers in each of its combat arms units, including field artillery and combat aviation.
The state guard's first female artillery officer joined the force in 2016, officials said.
-- This article is written by Drew Brooks from The Fayetteville Observer, N.C. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.