On December 3, 2015, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter removed gender restrictions to all military occupational specialties (MOS). Combat arms positions in the infantry (11B), formerly only open to males, would become fully integrated.
The newly adopted integration policy interested Sgt, Brittany Sylvester-Rivera. She wanted to switch her MOS, but there was a small problem initially.
“When this first came out, they said I wasn’t in my window to re-class,” said Sylvester-Rivera.
But on August 1 of 2016, the Sergeant Major of the Army Daniel A Dailey published a memo urging female non-commissioned officers (NCO’s) to volunteer for combat roles.
“We need leaders to help shape the next generation of combat soldiers,” Dailey wrote. “I know we have female soldiers with the drive and ability to be successful in ground combat arms formations. If you think you have what it takes, I am personally asking you to consider transferring to these select combat arms specialties.”
“When I received that email, I went straight to the retention NCO,” Sylvester-Rivera said.
Sylvester-Rivera has served as a signal support systems specialist for seven and a half years. Currently, she is assigned to the 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), and is re-classing to the infantry. Sylvester-Rivera is the first female NCO accepted into infantry.
“Its really what I wanted to do, it is a dream of mine,” added Sylvester-Rivera.
Being the first female to do something is not uncharted territory for Sylvester-Rivera. In Airborne School, Sylvester-Rivera was the first female honor graduate.
Describing herself as a “physical person”, Sylvester-Rivera doesn’t doubt her ability to adapt to the physicality of her new role. However, she will be challenged to learn the nuances of her new position.
“Mentally, I really did not know everything that went into the MOS being an 11B,” continued Sylvester-Rivera. “The more I study on it, and get taught.”
The Houston native will be leaving in May of 2017 to begin infantry training. In anticipation, Sylvester-Rivera is learning the verbiage used in the infantry and how to conduct a patrol from current infantry Soldiers assigned at The Old Guard.
In addition to the support she is receiving from other Old Guard Soldiers, Sylvester-Rivera can also count on her parents.
“My mom is like hey, this is your dream, if anyone can achieve it, you can,” Sylvester-Rivera continued.
Sylvester-Rivera doesn’t necessarily see herself as a role model for women, but simply someone going after a life long calling.
“Its a good thing I’m going to make a path,” added Sylvester-Rivera. “If I help other females along the way, great. But I want to help anybody, females and males.”
Yet she does want to be an example for her son.
“I want him to see no matter what, you can follow your dreams,” said Sylvester-Rivera. “I really want to show my son this is something that I’ve wanted to do, and I want to show him he can do anything he wants to do.”
Master Sgt. Phillip A. Durousseau, 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment Signal Noncommissioned officer-in-charge, is Sylvester-Rivera’s supervisor. He has assisted Sylvester-Rivera and another female officer re-classing into the infantry.
“They are go getters, alpha type personalities,” said Durousseau. “They have the drive and the mental acuity to be successful.”
Integrating the combat arms fields is a positive for the Army, Durousseau added. Durousseau worked with a female airman performing in a combat capacity, as a gunner, while in Afghanistan.
“Some people think females can’t handle what a male can handle,” said Sylvester-Rivera. “It has nothing to do with gender.”
Sylvester-Rivera’s goals as an infantry NCO have more to do with her role as a team leader and less as the first female infantry NCO.
“Make sure I bring my men back alive and take care of my men.” continued Sylvester-Rivera.
The pressure to prove herself is not something Sylvester-Rivera is worried about. She will earn the respect of her men through her actions, she said.
“I am capable of doing the same thing that you are, or better,” said Sylvester-Rivera. “As long as I know what I’m doing.”
The long-term career goal for Sylvester-Rivera is to eventually become the Sergeant Major of the Army, she said. It is a role that can help Soldiers in a tangible way and have the most positive impact on their lives, she said.
In the meantime, Sylvester-Rivera has a mix of emotions about the challenge that awaits her in May of 2017. She estimated around 19 other females will be embarking on this new chapter for the infantry.
“I’m really excited, I’m thrilled,” Sylvester-Rivera said. “I’m honored.”