WASHINGTON (Army News Service) — When Takiyah Carroll told friends and family she was joining the Army, everyone congratulated her.
When she added “going infantry,” their reaction was very different, she said.
Until this year, joining an infantry, field artillery or special operations unit wasn’t even possible for female enlistees, so people aren’t quite used to this yet, she said.
When people hear the word “Army” paired with the word “infantry,” they automatically think of combat, she said.
While combat is always a distinct possibility, for her, joining the Army and going into the combat arms branch “is about honor, courage, self-improvement and learning to be more disciplined,” she said.
“Friends told me that I’m crazy,” said the Baltimore native, “and my mom was kind of tense about it” because of the potential for combat.
But over time, she said that her mother, Terry Shaw, got used to the fact that her 19-year-old daughter was going to do it and she even said “I’m happy you’re going. That will be a good experience for you.”
Carroll, who shipped out Tuesday for training at Fort Benning, Georgia, is among the first group of at least 145 females going into the infantry military occupational specialty between now and the end of September.
If she successfully makes it through the arduous training, she said she’ll graduate May 19. But Carroll hopes to stay a few months longer at Fort Benning, as she hopes to qualify for follow-on airborne or air assault training.
Initially, Carroll tried to join the Army National Guard like several of her cousins, but she said she was rejected due to amblyopia, more commonly referred to as “lazy eye.”
Later, the Army determined that her amblyopia — which isn’t readily apparent to an observer — was mild and would not be an impediment to duty in the Army, she said. But by then, she had her sights set on going active Army infantry.
Carroll said a factor in her decision to go infantry is that she’s always loved a challenge and besides that, she described herself as a “tomboy and a daredevil.”
But it takes a lot of physical stamina to make it through infantry training and just being a daredevil doesn’t mean she’ll be able to do it. So Carroll said that over the last year, she’s been into some serious physical training.
While she has always been in good shape, participating in high school track and field and field hockey, she said she’s added a variety of weight training and aerobic workouts to help her prepare.
She doesn’t train alone, however, she said she works out with her battle buddies in the Future Soldier Program, which is the name the Army uses for the Delayed Entry Program, or DEP.
Carroll has already cleared her first hurdle to becoming an infantryman. She attained the highest level of the newly-implemented Occupational Physical Assessment Test, or OPAT, which all recruits now take to assess their fitness for MOSs before going to basic training.
Infantry and some other MOSs require the most demanding physical fitness. For example, Future Soldiers — the name the Army gives to people in the DEP — who want to be infantrymen, are required to achieve a minimum of 5 feet, 3 inches in the standing long jump; 14 feet, 9 inches for the seated power throw; 160 pounds for the strength deadlift; and a 10:14 minute mile over the course of 43 shuttle runs.
She exceeded those requirements, said Sgt. 1st Class Lee M. Meadowcroft, her recruiter from Baltimore Recruiting Company who administered the test. In fact, she lifted 225 pounds in the deadlift, he said.
Carroll said a lot of her motivation to train and succeed came from her mentor, Staff Sgt. Sierra Booker of the Army National Guard recruiting center. “She was a good inspiration. She kept pushing me. She believed in me. She helped me through a lot. She taught me to be more resilient,” Carroll said.
Despite gaining confidence and strength, Carroll admitted that she’s nervous about making it through training, particularly since she said she’s trying to be a good role model for other women and doesn’t want to fail at doing that.
One thing that’s helped her confidence, she said, is faith in God. Two days before shipping out to Fort Benning, she said she got baptized, and was really elated by the experience.
Carroll wears a small metal cross attached to a dog tag chain around her neck, given to her by her father Defonza Carroll. She said he wore it during his time in the Marine Corps and said she feels his presence when she wears it, which she said she’ll keep wearing forever.
In high school, Carroll said she was in an Army JROTC unit and wore her uniform every Friday. That made her dad so proud, she said. “He’d always tell me I should wear it every day.”
When her dad found out she was planning to join the Army, he was especially proud, she said.
But her dad, the gung-ho leatherneck, never learned about her plan to join the infantry, because he died last year, she said.
Had he known, he would have been doubly proud, she added.
As for future plans, Carroll said she plans to stay in the Army at least 20 years and after a tour in the infantry, she plans to go to college and become an Army officer.
Meadowcroft, who has been a Soldier since 1996, said that over the years he’s met many female Soldiers, his wife included, who could have qualified for and successfully trained in any of the combat arms branches, had they not been closed to women.
Regarding all MOSs now open to women, Meadowcroft commented: “it’s about time.” He noted that relevant physical standards for each MOS are now the same for both genders, and that’s a good thing.
Brig. Gen. Donna W. Martin, deputy commanding general, U.S. Army Recruiting Command, said she wishes Carroll well in training and hopes that others are inspired to serve like her in any MOS.
Traditionally, one of the factors in deciding to join the Army was having a family member who served and who was willing to share his or her experiences like Carroll’s father did. Unfortunately, there are fewer veterans today than in recent memory, she said.
That makes it all the more important for former Soldiers and veterans of all of the services to go into the schools and community and emphasize the many rewards of serving, Martin said.
The Army is also sending female recruitment teams to speak with students and high school faculty at major events like science fairs and auto races. The female recruiters speak about the opportunities the Army offers like education, job skills and leadership training. Martin said besides traditional recruiter training, the members of these teams also receive public affairs training.
There are several dozen of these special recruiters spread out across the U.S., particularly in places that lack a nearby Army installation.
Regarding female integration into the combat arms branches, Martin said that is going very smoothly for several reasons, among them being a changing culture in the Army’s acceptance of women in previously closed MOSs, fair and rigorous standards for both males and females, and introducing officers into these units first.
Having officers in combat arms branches really boosts the morale and confidence of female enlistees who check in, Martin said, adding “They say to themselves, ‘if she can do it, so can I.'”
USAREC officials noted that as of Jan. 31, the numbers of females who shipped or who are shipping to combat arms branches this fiscal year are as follows:
— 11X infantry, 145
— 12B combat engineer, 164
— 13B cannon crewmember, 90
— 13D field artillery, 18
— 13F fire support specialist, 45
— 13M Multiple Launch Rocket System crewmember, 6
— 13R field artillery Firefinder Radar, 4
— 19D cavalry scout, 43
— M1 armor crewman, 32
— M1 Tank systems maintainer, 15
— Bradley FV Systems maintainer, 8
— Artillery mechanic, 3
The USAREC official said there’s a very good possibility that more will enlist and ship prior to the end of FY17.
(Follow David Vergun on Twitter: @vergunARNEWS)
Pictured above: Takiyah Carroll lifts weights during a recent workout. Carroll has added a variety of weight training and aerobic workouts to help her prepare for infantry training. (Photo Credit: David Vergun)