APRIL 12, 2016, EASTOVER, S.C. – With combat roles recently being opened to female Soldiers, the South Carolina National Guard currently has the first females to attend a combat military occupational specialty (MOS) course at the Regional Training Institute on McCrady Training Site.
Florida Army National Guard Soldiers Spc. Maryi (pronounced Margie) Burnside, 779th Engineer Battalion, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, and Pfc. Candice Davis, 779th Engineer Battalion, 868th Engineer Company, are attending the combat engineer reclassification course being conducted by the South Carolina Army National Guard, 218th Regiment (Leadership), April 2-16, 2016.
Staff Sgt. William Nickles, 218th Regiment instructor, explained that the standards have been kept the same for all Soldiers attending the course and there was no preferential treatment given to Burnside and Davis.
“We have the same set standards as the active duty that have to be met,” said Nickles. “The female Soldiers have each met the standards for this course and quite impressively so.”
Nickles added this iteration of the course is even tougher than past classes due to it being a pilot program for other National Guard regional training sites to implement new High Demand Physical Tasks (HDPT) from the active duty. These tasks include conducting a 12-mile ruck march, carrying and placing 30-pound sandbags, dragging a 210-pound casualty to safety, removing a casualty from an armored vehicle and carrying and placing a 40-pound cratering charge, as well as other challenges.
“A 12-mile ruck march is challenging no matter who you are…they kept right up with them,” said Nickles.
Burnside, human resources specialist, explained that the course has been physically demanding, but has not presented an obstacle she could not complete. She added that her only disadvantage has been being shorter than her peers and having to use additional strength to lift objects higher.
“Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses and everything we’ve done has been based on whether you have the strength or not, not on being a female. It’s been fair,” said Burnside. “This is a great opportunity for females. If they put their mind to it, they can do it.”
Before attending the course, Davis, horizontal construction engineer, said she was concerned about how they would be regarded by their male peers who may have reservations about women in combat roles; however, she said her classmates have been nothing but supportive and motivating throughout the course. Additionally, the instruction provided has helped her feel prepared to serve as a combat engineer.
“The instructors have been amazing. They are knowledgeable and very helpful and quick to share their experiences with us,” added Davis.
All Soldiers who complete the two-week reclassification course are qualified to serve in a combat engineer position as a front line operator. In addition to the HDPT, Soldiers must also complete other tasks including manual breaching, identify mines and firing devices, detect and react to explosive hazards, construct demolitions systems and conduct urban operations.
“I love this stuff…It’s been really fun,” said Davis.
The combat engineer MOS was originally opened to female Soldiers in June 2015. Spc. Skylar Anderson, Vermont Army National Guard, was the first female Soldier to become a qualified combat engineer in December 2015.