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Female Lieutenant Passes Infantry Officer Course

After becoming the first female Guard officer to graduate Fort Benning's Infantry Basic Officer Leadership Course, New Hampshire's 2LT Katrina Simpson discusses her journey
2LT Katrina Simpson commissioned as an officer Sept. 11 2015, and branched infantry after the Army opened all branches to women. She will return to Fort Benning in January for Ranger School’s pre-selection phase. Photo by 1SG Mike Daigle
2LT Katrina Simpson commissioned as an officer Sept. 11 2015, and branched infantry after the Army opened all branches to women. She will return to Fort Benning in January for Ranger School’s pre-selection phase. Photo by 1SG Mike Daigle

Second Lieutenant Katrina Simpson made history on Oct. 26 when she became the first female officer in the National Guard to graduate from the Army Infantry Basic Officer Leadership Course (IBOLC) at Fort Benning, GA.

After completing the intensive 17-week combat leadership course, Simpson was one of 10 female lieutenants in a class of 166 to qualify as an infantry officer. It was the first class to include female officers since Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced in late 2015 that all military occupations—including combat positions—would be open to women. Assigned as a platoon leader to the New Hampshire Army National Guard’s mountain infantry company, Simpson will return to Fort Benning in January for the pre-selection phase of Ranger School.

At 28, Simpson is older and more seasoned than most of her military peers. She is married with a 4-year-old daughter, holds a master’s degree and has worked as a clinician for children suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

On the day before her graduation, Simpson discussed some key points about her life-altering decision to enlist in the Guard three years ago and where she hopes her military career will lead her.

HER DECISION TO JOIN THE GUARD. “My dad is a retired Navy chief warrant officer, so I always had wanted to be in the military. I played around with the idea in college. I settled down with my husband, started a family and finished grad school. I started working as a professional, and then one day, I was just kind of thinking I wasn’t satisfied and [thought] about what I could do. So, I started looking at other options. I don’t remember how I stumbled upon it, but the National Guard page popped up [on the internet], and there was the recruiter’s information for my area. I shot her an email, and she responded instantly. Two weeks later, I went to get my physical, and two weeks after that I was at Basic Training.”

ENROLLMENT IN IBOLC. “I was considering branching medical or personnel, but as I went through officer school, I started leaning toward the idea of wanting more out of my training. I wanted [to be] more hands-on. I’ve had a few really great mentors along the way who encouraged me to go combat arms. I was originally going to go field artillery because there was an opening in the state, but then infantry opened up.”

HER HUSBAND'S REACTION TO HER BRANCH CHOICE. “He wasn’t a huge fan of me joining the military in the first place, but he’s come around. He knows me well enough [to know] that once I get an idea in my head, I’m probably not going to let go of it until I’ve given it my best shot. When I told him I wanted to go infantry, he was kind of like, ‘Yeah, I knew this was coming.’ He’s been really supportive. He’s just an absolute rock star.”

SUPPORT FROM HER FORT BENNING CLASSMATES. “I haven’t had any issues, honestly. We are broken down into squads. I’m the only female in my squad. We’re the weapons squad, so we get to carry a lot of heavy equipment. I’m really close with the guys. We trust each other. We depend on each other.”

THE MOST CHALLENGING PART OF THE INFANTRY COURSE. “The hardest part for me was the academic component. I’m not a good test taker. I prefer the field exercises.” 

WHAT MOTIVATES HER. “There are really three [factors], and these aren’t in any particular order of importance. I want my daughter to know that when she is deciding what she wants to do when she grows up that there are no limits, and she can be whatever she wants to be. No. 2, I just enjoy a challenge. I like anything that is physically demanding, mentally demanding, tactically and academically demanding. Lastly, my goal as a professional is to work with combat Vets, Soldiers with combat-related PTSD. To me, it’s really important to understand where that PTSD comes from and to have that firsthand experience. That’s the population I want to work with.”

ADVICE FOR WOMEN GOING INFANTRY. “You won’t know until you try. The idea does sound scary to a lot of people. What was surprising to me were the comments written about Captain Kristen Griest [one of the first females to graduate from Ranger School]. The things people said [on social media] about females being in the infantry were horrible. But at the end of the day, these people are sitting behind their computer screens. You know, they’re not actually out in the world. So far, I haven’t seen any of those people. Since I got here, I’ve felt supported. [Those people] are not even in the back of my mind anymore.”