A Hattiesburg National Guard staff sergeant said she was excited about Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announcing the military will open all jobs to women Thursday
"I personally am excited," Staff Sergeant Carmen Yepez said. "I think that women coming in here and learning to do jobs that predominantly males had done in the past is going to open up a whole lot of opportunity for us."
Yepez has been in the Army National Guard for almost 11 years, and she said she is happy to see the changes in the military and women's roles in it.
"You saw that the ladies, the soldiers, went through Ranger school this year," Yepez said. "It's been a lot of accomplishments with women and their role in the military and to kind of see, now that this has been opened up, what opportunities are out there. You know, we'd love to see more women leadership."
"As long as they qualify and meet the standards, women will now be able to contribute to our mission in ways they could not before," Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said. "They'll be allowed to drive tanks, fire mortars, lead infantry soldiers into combat. They'll be able to serve as Army Rangers and Green Berets, Navy Seals, Marine Corps Infantry, Air Force Parajumpers and everything else that was previously open only to men. And even more importantly, our military will be able to harness the skills and perspectives that talented women have to offer."
Yepez said she is excited to see new female recruits have almost 220,000 new job options.
"When our new recruits go through their basic training, and they choose their military job, what they're going to choose, I'm really excited to see that," Yepez said.
She said she knows first-hand what it is like being the only woman in a male-only unit after being deployed with combat engineers in Iraq.
"I got assigned as public affairs and would go out on the route clearance missions with these gentlemen. That's what the men do. Combat engineers," she said. "It was a male only unit, and as public affairs, I was assigned to them to cover stories. Just to kind of show the world what they did. It was really interesting to be the only female out there in a male-dominant world. You're going out there not trained quite as well as these guys, these soldiers, that have been out there and doing this pretty much their entire career. And then you basically get a crash course and go 'Here. You need to look for this because this literally could be life or death.'"
Yepez said while she is not personally interested in switching jobs, she thinks there is one in particular that has gotten a lot of attention.
"Infantry," she said. "That's kind of been the biggest thing. Being a soldier, you're going to learn how to use a weapon. You're going to learn how to defend yourself, that type of thing, but to do that every day, I think it's interesting to see how everyone's going to react."
She said her office was surprised by the landmark announcement, and while she said she was expecting some change, she was surprised the decision included all combat positions.
"It's always going to be a mixed reaction," she said. "You've got these people who believe that women should not be in combat roles, and there are some of us that do believe we should. Especially, I think, here in the South, it's a little different. We do have some people who tend to get a little nervous. I think men naturally are protectors, and, you know, that kind of stirs up at lot of debate."
Yepez said she hopes the initial reactions subsided, and units can learn to accept this new normal.
"It's interesting to see how everyone's going to start training and learning to learn together and grow together as a unit and not necessarily say, 'hey, male, female.' At the end of the day, we're all soldiers," Yepez said.
Carter said there will be no exceptions for certain military branches to keep certain positions only for men. He said he will direct the military to open all jobs to women starting in January 2016.