Women’s History Month: Celebrating mentors, trailblazers

Each year in March, we celebrate Women’s History Month and I thought it was only fitting that I take time to reflect and pay homage to the women in my life. They have guided and shaped me and given me the proverbial kick in the buttocks when it was needed.
As a young child, I knew my role models needed to be women who I had access to, not those who were unattainable. The first person I admired was my mother. She became a single mother when I was in the ninth grade, and my younger sister and I were supposed to be statistics because we were being reared in a single-parent household. Well, that was the furthest from the truth. She raised us with a strong foundation, values and morality. She also had to become mother and father, and I must say she did an outstanding job.
She became my chauffer, costume designer when I was in choir, my musical advisor when I was in band, my tutor and anything else I needed. When I became an adult, I realized I had my mother going from one place to another. After working, she would be all of those things to me and not once did she complain. I now know it wasn’t because she had an abundance of energy after working all day, she did it out of love and because I was doing constructive things at school. She also stressed, and I mean stressed, education was the key to being successful.
When I began playing basketball her chauffeuring duties extended to not only me, but some of my teammates as well. Before allowing me to even tryout, she had to establish a few ground rules. To play sports in my school district students had to maintain a GPA of 2.0, but that wasn’t good enough for my mother. She told me if I wanted to play basketball my GPA had to be 3.0 or higher. My first thought was this wasn’t fair. Maintaining that GPA wasn’t a challenge, but I didn’t like her telling me that’s what I had to do if I wanted to try out for basketball. However, I soon realized she was setting me up for success and laying the foundation of working hard in the future.
My mother wasn’t the only woman who shaped my life. My high school counselor Janice Doyle in some ways became my school mother. She wouldn’t allow me to take any shortcuts. During high school, I took classes that prepared me for the future and my senior year was no different from the previous three years. After about two months of physics, I decided my senior year didn’t need to be that difficult because I applied and had been accepted to college. It was time to take it easy, so I thought. I tried to slide a drop slip by Ms. Doyle and the naiveté in me thought she would blindly sign it. Not only did Ms. Doyle not sign my slip to drop physics, she called my mother and told on me. When I got home that day from basketball practice, my mother was waiting for me. She asked why I was trying to drop physics. I thought I would play the grade card by saying, “Well I’m getting a ‘C’ and you know I don’t like getting those kinds of grades.” Little did I know Ms. Doyle was a step ahead of me and she had explained to my mother while I was getting a “C,” because physics was a weighted class that was like receiving a “B” in a regular class. My mother replied by saying, “You are not dropping that class because you are passing it.”
I learned a lesson that day; you can’t really fool your mother or high school counselor because they were miles ahead of my teenage brain. Even though I remained in physics, I can honestly say I don’t remember much. I guess I was too stubborn to retain any of the information.
Unlike young women today, we didn’t get the fanfare when playing sports. Yes, there were women basketball players, but they weren’t celebrated or given the same press. One of my favorite players was Cheryl Miller. I remember watching her being a leader for the University of Southern California. I used to say I want to be just like her. I know we played different positions, mainly because I’m vertically challenged at 5 feet 5 inches and Miller is 6 feet 2 inches; she was still my shero (female hero) of basketball.
Although I initially attended college for more than two years before entering active duty from the Army Reserve, I have to admit I didn’t encounter many women who would have a lasting impact on my life. I finally encountered that on active duty because I started to see, as the song goes, “Sisters Doing It For Themselves.” I began to see women in leadership positions who were making decisions for all Soldiers and who had the respect of their peers. I’m sure it wasn’t easy getting that respect, but they had it. Being around those female Soldiers showed me that we too could make it in a male-dominated organization.

I’ve had the opportunity of seeing a female four-star general and I will soon see the second female four-star general in Lt. Gen. Laura Richardson, who was recently nominated for her fourth star. Richardson is also a former Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall base commander.

We now have women in combat arms and infantry military occupational skills.

According to June 2020 numbers, there were 601 women in the infantry career field, attending training or in the accession pipeline. The armor career field had 568 women, including officers.

While serving on active duty, I served with women who had the capability and skill set to be these women, but the fields weren’t open to us. It warms my heart when I see women graduating from Ranger School or serving as leaders in former male-dominated fields in the Army.
I’ve also been lucky to encounter women who have become my friends as well as my mentors.  When I look at their lives, it gives me hope. I see them as being strong and independent woman, and it brings my life full circle. It makes me remember all of the life lessons my mother taught me and I will always remember her telling my sister and me that we can do anything as long as we try and never give up. My upbringing has always made me remember it’s not that falling that counts or defines you, it’s the getting up and brushing yourself off and moving forward that counts.

Pentagram Editor Catrina Francis can be reached at catrina.s.francis2.civ@mail.mil.

By Catrina Francis

Pentagram Editor