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The evolving role of women in the U.S. Army

Posted at 5:35 PM, May 23, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-24 12:10:08-04
On a warm day at Ft. Huachuca, Lt. Col. Candice Frost walks into a classroom to welcome a new class of officers to the post.
 
As Battalion Commander of the 304th Military Intelligence Battalion, she will explain the expectations she has for each soldier. 
 
And she is one of a select group of women to hold the position of Battalion Commander in the U.S. Army. 
 
"You're not limited by your gender at all in the Army and it's been definitely an honor," said Frost. 
 
The role of women in the Army is evolving. Recent changes have opened up positions never available in the past, jobs like the infantry or artillery fields.
 
And last August, the first two women in Army history graduated from the elite Ranger school. 
     
Frost graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1998, at a time when she says only about 15 percent of the students were women. 
 
"We definitely stood out and understood that at that time back in the '90s, there were restrictions on jobs that we could go into," she said.
 
Now all positions in the Army are open to women, a change announced by Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter only a few months ago. 
 
"Women have constantly had the cognitive ability to do those things and lead in such positions of trust and responsibility," said Frost. "And now they have the opportunity to sit at the table and I think that door opening will achieve great heights. It just will take time."
 
While standing in her office on post, Frost stares at a photo of her female classmates from West Point  and says it's amazing the heights they've reached. At least four she says have earned the rare title of Battalion Commander. 
 
"When there's a female Chief of Staff of the Army, we will really have achieved almost true balance and normalcy," she said. "It will take years though and eventually over time it will occur but I can say the Army is taking great strides to integrate and it's been quite a journey." 
 
Part of Frost's role as Battalion Commander includes mentoring young officers, especially young female officers like Capt. Jennae Tomlinson. 
 
Tomlinson hasn't even turned 30-years-old yet but as a Company Commander at Ft. Huachuca, she's currently in charge of about 1,300 soldiers and civilians.
 
"Everything from making sure they have the right supplies to get their job done to processing any leave forms, any pay issues," said Tomlinson.
 
She graduated from West Point in 2010, following the same path as Frost, but attending the school after changes had been made. 
 
"Because of things [Frost's] generation of female officers had gone through that proved themselves time and time again, that they were the right person at the right time to do the job and it didn't matter that they were a woman, they were able to do the same exact things," said Tomlinson. "It helped, it eased the burden of me and my fellow female officers in those situations."
 
She says their job isn't over yet. Now that the Army has opened combat roles to women, Tomlinson says women will once again have to prove their worth. 
 
"Those things will eventually change and eventually go away," she says. "My only hope is that the class of 2020 at the academy doesn't have to worry about proving themselves to some infantry colonel that yeah they can ruck 12 miles with an 80 pound rucksack just like the guys in their platoon."
 
"At the end of the day, I'm a soldier in the Army and the only way to continue to prove yourself is to just be the best soldier you possibly can be," said Tomlinson. "And to continue to move forward and push forward so when generations see you, they don't necessarily see me as a woman, they see me as a good soldier."