NEWS | May 20, 2021

Hoosier women pave way for generations to come

By Staff Sgt. Erin E. Johns 138th Regional Training Institute

Saturday marked a special day as the first two Indiana National Guard female soldiers graduated the infantry school at 138th Regional Training Institute.

Indiana National Guard Sgt. Amber Strawn, of South Bend, and Sgt. Jillian Sandefur, of Highland, 38th Infantry Division’s 2nd 151st Infantry Battalion, 76th Infantry Brigade, applied themselves throughout the course said one of the course’s instructors.

“Sgt. Strawn and Sgt. Sandefur worked hard,” said Staff Sgt. Anthony Smerk, a 138th RTI instructor. “Combat arms recently opened up to females. I try to treat all of the students exactly the same. If you are meeting or exceeding the standard, then I don’t care your race, gender, religion matters none to me.”

Smerk said he felt proud of all the infantry course soldiers, and the distinguished class leader said the soldiers from various backgrounds came together as one unit.

“There is a standard, there’s an expectation, and I try to get all soldiers to that standard, to that expectation regardless of their background,” said Staff Sgt. Aurelio Hernandez with the 3rd 485th Drill Sergeant Battalion and the distinguished class leader. “After a couple days they melded into everyone else and we became one group. We’re just one unit.”

Sandefur and Strawn discussed their strengths and weaknesses prior to arriving at the course and planned to work together based on each other’s strengths.

“I felt like we leaned on each other a lot and we became really close before we even got here. Now we’re like best friends,” said Strawn.

Though female soldiers in combat roles are relatively new to the U.S. Army, the male classmates and fellow noncommissioned officers supported them and encouraged them throughout and to the end of the course.

“For the most part they did actually treat us the same,” said Strawn. “With the higher NCOs, they are very supportive of us, as females, going through. It brought all of us together, we all worked together. This was a really great class we went through.”

Both women suggested preparing yourself before attending the infantry course by running a lot, lifting weights and rucking up hills to condition your feet.

“The course was a little tough, but it was good because it is different from the support side of things. It is tough but as long as you're mentally tough you can do it,” said Sandefur.

Now they’re both on the way, paving the way for future female Hoosier Guard members who want to serve as infantry soldiers.