A U.S. Army Soldier Reflects on Breaking Barriers During Women’s History Month

By Spc. Tyler Becker

With March being Women’s History Month, it is a time for us to reflect on the advancements women have made in the U.S. Army Lt. Col. Nicole Smith is an example of a woman who has pushed the needle forward. Nicole is the division surgeon serving in the 34th Infantry Division, also known as the “Red Bulls,” and began her military career in 2006 when she direct-commissioned during medical school. Over the years she has served in various capacities, including battalion surgeon, forward task force brigade surgeon and most recently, division surgeon.

“I met my husband in 2003. He had gotten injured in the Marine Corps. We got married and he ended up deploying to Iraq two weeks later,” said Nicole. “It just felt like I had something to contribute. I finished college and after doing medical research and then being accepted into medical school, I took a direct commission.”

Photo credit DVIDS/ Staff Sgt. Mahsima Alkamooneh

Nicole, a soldier in the Minnesota National Guard, listens for her score after the M17 pistol range qualification. Rifle marksmanship is a basic skill soldiers must fine-tune before deploying.

As a woman serving in the U.S. Army as a division surgeon, Nicole is passionate about her career and teaching those under her.

“What I love about my job is that I get to teach medics and soldiers how to provide medical care. They become kind of an extension of my hands and feet out there,” said Nicole. “They’ll save more people than I ever have.”

Despite her career successes and recognition, she is keen to reiterate that there are still more strides to be made for women in the military.

“Women’s History Month is important because while we make up 51% of the population, women are underrepresented in leadership roles across the board, especially in the Army,” said Nicole. “For example, we make up 22% of the Minnesota National Guard, but very few women are in leadership positions. For me, Women’s History Month is a moment to reflect on how far we’ve come and recognize how far we have yet to rise.”

Good leadership makes good soldiers, and she reflects often on how she was mentored and wants to share what she knows with the next generation of soldiers.

“I try to exemplify what strong female leadership looks like. I’m really grateful for the women who preceded me,” said Nicole. “And I am actively reaching down to the women climbing up the wall behind me.”

Photo credit DVIDS/ Staff Sgt. Mahsima Alkamooneh

Nicole engages a target during an M17 pistol range qualification at Fort Cavazos, Texas.

Nicole occupies a position that shows the progress that female soldiers have made over the years and she intends to be a pillar of support for those who follow in her footsteps.

“I have a unique privilege in that the leadership of the division surgeon section is entirely female. For the first time in Minnesota National Guard history, the Division Surgeon, the Chief of Medical Operations and the Chief Medical NCO for Operations/Sergeant Major are all women. I get to hold unique counsel with these women.”

Nicole always strives to be the best leader she can be. The soldiers under her inspire her to continue doing her best.

“The soldiers I lead inspire me to be a better leader every day,” said Smith. “The NCOs who have shaped me are true professionals and I owe a lot to them.”

Nicole is both a woman and a soldier. She intends to be the role model younger generations deserve and make it known that no matter who you are or where you come from you can be a leader and be successful.

“I hope every soldier I touch knows how much I care about them,” shared Nicole. “I hope that little girls see me and know that they can be doctors, officers and leaders too.”

How the USO is Supporting Soldiers in Texas

Soldiers like Nicole who are stationed in Texas can turn to several USO Centers throughout the state for support throughout their service, including USO Fort Cavazos, which opened in 2001.

Here, as in most other 250+ USO locations around the world, service members and their families can take advantage of all the free amenities that USO Centers have to offer, including Wi-Fi, snacks, coffee, games and couches to crash on when off-duty.

Photo credit USO Photo

Two soldiers relax on comfy armchairs at USO Fort Cavazos. One of the many amenities provided by the Center.

For soldiers stationed at Fort Cavazos, having a place to unwind and relax in their downtime after a long day of high-pressure and stressful work can be essential for their mental health and well-being, and can have a significant impact on the daily lives and duties of service members.

Regardless of where their military careers take them, service members like Nicole can always rely on the USO. Thanks to our generous supporters and USO volunteers, we will always do whatever it takes to have their backs, through every step of their military journey.

-This story was originally published on DVIDShub.net. It has been edited and expanded upon for USO.org.

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