When Pvt. Journae Q. King was a little girl, she loved music and used to take dance lessons. She also embraced the “tomboy” side of her personality by playing basketball, running track and taking part in other sports.
The St. John the Baptist Parish resident had big dreams about what she could do after graduating from East St. John High School, and she always imagined it would be something physically and mentally demanding. She never thought, however, that by age 21 she would be making military history.
King is slated this year to become the first woman in the Louisiana Army National Guard to begin training as a field artillery automated tactical data systems specialist, a combat position that until late last year was open only to men.
King’s recruitment for the position on Nov. 30 came just a week after the Pentagon opened all jobs in the military services to women, a landmark decision that for the first time allowed females to join the country’s most elite combat units.
“Actually, it feels awesome,” King, now 22, said recently as she prepared to go to South Carolina at the end of January for basic training at Fort Jackson. “I never expected really to be this big as far as history goes.”
King, who said she likes dealing with guns, will be joining the Louisiana National Guard’s historic 1st Battalion, 141st Field Artillery Regiment, also known as the Washington Artillery.
She will be serving in a combat position but won’t be in the front lines, according to her recruiting officer, Sgt. Robert Gregoire.
Instead, after completing training, she’ll be what’s called the “brains” of the operation, working in the rear to make calculations either with computers or by hand to determine where the weapons in front should fire. She’ll also assist in preparing field artillery tactical data systems.
“It’s real important,” Gregoire said about King’s future job, which requires a high score on a test required to enter the National Guard. “If they don’t get the calculations right, then they don’t hit the target.”
Gregoire said he “couldn’t even answer” why it took so long for King’s position to be opened to women.
“I’m just happy that the job’s now available to females,” he said. “If they qualify for the job, if they meet all qualifications, why can’t we give them a chance?”
Capt. Anthony LaNasa, the 1-141 Alpha Battery commander, also welcomed King, according to a statement on the Louisiana National Guard website.
“This is a stepping stone for women to fight the misconception that they can’t serve in combat arms,” LaNasa said. “They will earn the respect and overcome this misconception.”
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter’s decision to open all military jobs to women followed three years of experimentation with further integrating women into various positions within the armed forces.
In October, the Army began placing women in many field artillery positions.
Now, previous restrictions have been lifted even further. After a 30-day review period slated to end this week, 220,000 jobs — or about 10 percent of the entire active and reserve force — may be open to women. Most jobs are in the Army and Marine Corps infantry and armory units.
“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,” Carter said in early December. “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.”
The White House has supported expanding opportunities for all Americans to serve in the military. In 2011, President Obama signed a law ending the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and allowing military service by openly gay and lesbian people.
The latest move hasn’t come without controversy, however. Notably, the Marine Corps issued an internal recommendation earlier in 2015 that sought to keep some jobs closed to women. The Marines said it found that women were injured more often than men and that infantry units composed solely of men shot more accurately and moved more quickly, according to an article in the Military Times.
The leaders of the House and Senate armed services committees, Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, and Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, issued a joint statement promising to review the new rule carefully.
“Secretary Carter’s decision to open all combat positions to women will have a consequential impact on our service members and our military’s war-fighting capabilities,” they said in December.
On the other hand, U.S. Rep. Martha McSally, R-Arizona, expressed wholehearted support of Carter’s decision. A retired Air Force colonel, McSally served 26 years in the military and was the first U.S. woman to fly in combat and first woman to command a fighter squadron.
“Today’s historic announcement finally recognizes that our military is strongest when it prioritizes merit and capability, not gender — and it’s about damn time,” McSally said. “Women have been fighting and dying for our country since its earliest wars. They have shown they can compete with the best of the best and succeed.”
In the past decade, more than 300,000 women were deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the Military Times, and 9,000 female troops have earned Combat Action Badges.
Despite restrictions on their combat roles, more than 800 female service members have been wounded and at least 161 have died from combat and other incidents, the Military Times reported.
During an interview, King’s mother, Rhonda King James, said she was both excited for her daughter and nervous about her possibly being put in danger overseas.
“As any parent, we’re all going to be nervous. But it’s a happy, exciting nervousness,” James, a 44-year-old school bus driver, said. “We just look at it as a positive thing.”
Despite the risks, King, who grew up in New Orleans and moved to St. John Parish with her family after Hurricane Katrina, said she was looking forward to the challenge and the responsibility of her unprecedented position.
“I am. Why? Because for one, I want to do it better than a man,” King said. “I like working with men because it pushes me harder. And I have no room to slack, especially if I’m going to be surrounded by men.”