Yesterday, I had the opportunity to interview Sergeant First Class Helen Gillespie for a Bloggers’ Roundtable. SFC Gillespie began her military career in the Women’s Army Corps [WACs], and has served in several National Guard Units and Army Reserve units.
Sgt. Gillespie told us this in her opening remarks:
From early 1971 until my recent decision to retire Iâ€™ve strived to be a valuable part of what I consider the strongest military organization in the world, the US Army. Running into and breaking through brick walls of limited opportunity for women has soured my view of the US Army. However, the benefit I received over the years has strengthened my belief that the Army offers great opportunity and growth to anyone who has the ability and strength to embrace it.
From the beginning of my Army career as a tuba player in the Womenâ€™s Army Corps Band until now, as I close out my military career as a journalist, Iâ€™ve experienced memberships in three stateâ€™s National Guard organizations (Florida, District of Columbia, Alabama), the active Army and the Army Reserve. Some of the other jobs or “Military Occupational Specialties” Iâ€™ve held are, Repair Parts Specialist, Psychological Operations Specialist, Cook and administrative skills instructor. Iâ€™m one of many soldiers who illustrates that a person can do the job they want in the Army, no matter how many jobs they want to do.
I asked her what advice she would have for a young woman considering joining the Army:
Q: Okay. Sergeant, if you have one piece of advice to give a young woman considering joining the Army today, you know, you’ve been around, what would you say to a young woman considering joining?
SGT. GILLESPIE: Oh, this is going to sound so tacky, Chuck. Be Army strong.
Q: Now you got to tell me what you mean.
SGT. GILLESPIE: Oh, of course. Of course. You know, when you’re strong, you’re true to yourself. And I would suggest that — well, any — male or female — be true to yourself. Be true to your passions. If that’s not working for you, then, you know, heck, why get up in the morning? You know? But just be true to yourself, male and female. And there’s not that much difference these days.
And I would say the Army society or the military society pretty much has been a picture of — or a vignette of the American society. It doesn’t matter any more if you’re male or female. You know, you show up at the recruiter’s door to do a job. Then you qualify for that job and you march on from there.
Sgt. Gillespie is nearing retirement from the Army. It was clear that she had a mix of emotions as she considered her career and her life in and out of military service. This interview reminds us all that our warfighters are people, too, and that a person’s career has many ups and downs.
Sergeant First Class Helen Gillespie, thank you for your service to our country. God bless you.