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173rd Airborne Brigade likely to receive its first female infantry officer

U.S. Military Academy Cadet Taylor England, center right, helps her teammates flip over a tractor tire during the Sandhurst Military Skills Competition at West Point, N.Y., April 14, 2018. England, the top-ranked cadet who is branching infantry, plans to serve with the 173rd Airborne Brigade when she completes the Infantry Basic Officer Leader Course. (SEAN KIMMONS/U.S. ARMY)

The 173rd Airborne Brigade, one of the Army’s most deployed and decorated units, is expected to soon welcome its first female infantry officer.

Taylor England, the top-rated infantry cadet at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, chose Italy and the 173rd as her first duty assignment, according to an Army News Service story.

It was a choice that opened up only after Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley visited the academy in January and learned that England wanted an Italy assignment, the story said.

“As Milley greeted cadets at a dinner, he asked England where she hoped to be posted. She replied, ‘Italy, sir.’ Shortly after, she said, Italy was opened up to female infantry officers,” the story said.

“It was pretty awesome. The best lieutenants end up in Italy. It’s definitely going to be a challenge, even if I wasn’t a female, because of the competition.”

The Army hadn’t previously announced the move. In January, the service announced that in addition to Fort Hood, Texas, and Fort Bragg, N.C., three more bases would open up for female infantry and armor officers: Fort Carson, Colo., Fort Campbell, Ky., and Fort Bliss, Texas.

Officials with the 173rd were not immediately available for comment Friday.

England, 22, is the top-ranked cadet out of 230 headed to the infantry branch. The rankings reflect academic standing and performance in military skills and physical training.

The Ohio native maxed out her most recent physical fitness test and ran 2 miles in 13 minutes, 9 seconds — 9 seconds shy of the men’s fastest standard.

England, a lacrosse player at the academy, must still graduate from the Infantry Basic Officer Leadership Course before her assignment to the 173rd, which is the Army’s contingency response force in Europe.

The unit, which fought in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan and counts 18 Medal of Honor recipients, did not integrate women into its paratrooper ranks until 2000. The distinction went to 1st Lt. Leslie Balfaqih, a military police officer.

Infantry and armor units were closed to women until December 2015, when Defense Secretary Ash Carter ordered the military services to open all combat jobs to women.

The next year, Capt. Kristen Griest became the first female infantry officer in the Army when her request was approved to transfer from a military police unit. Months later, the first 10 female lieutenants graduated from the Infantry Officer Basic Course.

Infantry troops have been the most resistant to the idea of women in their units, Defense Department studies have found, citing beliefs that their presence would degrade physical standards and unit cohesion.

“You just overcome it by being competent and being physical and showing them that you can do what they can do,” England said in the Army News Service story. “You’re not going to shy away from their resistance. You’re going to show them, ‘Hey, I’m here, and I’m ready to lead soldiers.’’’


© 2018 the Stars and Stripes

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