Military women sharp--and showing it

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Nora Anton
  • 354th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
March is Women's History Month--a time to celebrate the grandmothers, mothers, sisters and daughters who are all at the heart of a movement that brought about significant changes in education, politics and law, religion, work, social reform and health. 

These women from all walks of life took long strides to ensure the acknowledgement of their rights and the rights of latter generations of females. 

However, women marching off to careers in the military are still knocking down barriers even in today's modern era. 

American women were acknowledged the right to serve in the armed forces in 1941 as the Woman's Army Auxiliary Corp. In July 1943, a bill was signed removing the word auxiliary--women were officially in the Army. 

Although a significant breakthrough, there were still certain rules stifling women in the military based on political, physical, psychological and traditional concerns. 

One of these is the restraint on women in combat situations--an issue slowly being remedied through proof that women are just as combat-capable as men. 

One elite group of combatants is the Air Force's sharpshooters. Currently there are seven qualified female sharpshooters in the Air Force, and one is assigned to Eielson.
Senior Airman Kristin Ferris, 354th Security Forces Squadron pass and registration clerk, sharpshooter and former Eielson Hostage Search and Rescue Team member, accounts her experience with the Close Precision Engagement Course, the Air Force's version of sniper school, as the most incredible opportunity she has ever been given. 

"It is not an every day occurrence that any one person receives the opportunity for something like this; being a female only made this that much more sought-after," Airman Ferris said. 

She said her unit's decision to send her to the course was not influenced by her gender nor did her gender make her a more or less-likely candidate for the course at Camp Robinson, Ark. 

Eielson's selection process is based on how many times an Airman has qualified expert on the M-9 pistol and the M-4 carbine and their physical fitness scores. A major factor is also how motivated and prepared the candidates appear with the challenge of the excruciatingly intense training of the course. 

The first Army Sniper School class specifically for Airmen, was held in 1996; three years later the Air Force added CPEC, it's own sharpshooter course, to the list of opportunities for Airmen. 

The first female Airman to break ground in graduating CPEC was Senior Airman Jennifer Donaldson with the 183rd Fighter Wing in Springfield, Ill., she graduated April 14, 2001. 

"Some may see it as a rarity, but to the female sharpshooters we are no different from the male sharpshooters," Airman Ferris said. 

During a 2001 Sniper Country interview, the school's (then) chief instructor and former Marine sniper Army Sgt. 1st Class Ben Dolan said "Women can shoot better, by and large, and they're easier to train because they don't have the inflated egos that a lot of men bring to these programs." 

"Women will ask for help if they need it, and they will tell you what they think," he said.
The course itself consists of classroom work, firing the sniper rifle, range estimation, stalking, hiding, target detecting, memory exercises and a physical training. Airman Ferris said her favorite experiences were shooting the M-24 sniper weapon system everyday, working through the land navigation course in the rain and receiving the written test scores at the end of class. 

"That's when you know you have become a sharpshooter," she said.

Airman Ferris said the course was difficult and the instructors were incredibly knowledgeable and tough. "That was an honor and a feat in itself--being able to learn from them and their experiences in regards to being a sharpshooter." 

"I don't know how the classes are conducted without females, but I doubt they were taught harder or easier than our class (which had four other females in it)," she said. "As females, we weren't treated any differently and definitely weren't cut any slack." 

Airman Ferris said the course wouldn't have been worth it if the females were treated differently. 

"It was such a good feeling and I couldn't believe I was capable of such a challenge," she said. "It's the most rewarding thing I have ever done."