Story by Staff Sgt. Terrance D. Rhodes
FORT MYER, Va – Movies like “Saving Private Ryan”, “Full Metal Jacket” and “Blackhawk Down”, were just some of her favorites to watch as a young child. While most eleven-year –old girls were hanging out with their friends or getting new toys, Sgt. Brittany Sylvester-Rivera, 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), was fascinated by the idea of infantrymen pushing forward on the battlefield and protecting her country.
“I grew up watching military movies, and after watching “Saving Private Ryan”, I told my mother that’s what I wanted to grow up and do,” said Sylvester-Rivera.
Like most mothers, she told her to wait. While she waited until she was of age to join the military, her passion to become what see saw in those movies continued to grow.
“Our country has given us so much, people have sacrificed their lives and you don’t want to look back years from now and say ‘we never honored them’ that’s the reason why I wanted to become an infantryman,” said the Houston native.
Her journey into becoming what she saw in those movies, wasn’t possible when she first joined in 2009.
“I went into the recruiter station and told them that I wanted to be and infantryman, and of course the denied me,” said Sylvester-Rivera. “So they told me that the closet thing I could get to being infantry was to become 25U [Signal Support Systems specialist] because I could be on the battlefield with infantrymen so I said yes.”
Her fortune changed in December 2015 when former Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced that women could serve in combat military occupational specialty.
“As soon as I heard this I went and talked to my career counselor, and he told me that I wasn’t eligible to reenlist yet, so I had to continue to wait,” said Sylvester-Rivera.
It wasn’t until August 2016, when Sgt. Maj. of the Army, Dan Dailey, wrote a memo asking for female soldiers to transfer to combat arms jobs.
“As soon as I read that memo, I ran back to my career counselors’ office to see if he had seen this memo,” said Sylvester-Rivera. “He said told me he had just read it and he knew I would come see him.”
The process started for her to re-classify into her lifelong dream had started, but it had many hurdles it had to first get past.
“I had to sit down and talk to my company commander, then all the way up to the regimental commander. They wanted to see if I was mentally and physically ready for this new challenge, and to see if really I wanted to do this,” said Sylvester-Rivera.
After they saw my passion and determination about becoming an infantryman, my leadership had no doubts that I would go to school and be successful, added Sylvester-Rivera.
“The first day I got there and walked into my quarters to sign in, the NCO on duty asked me, “are you lost,” chuckled Sylvester-Rivera. “I informed him that I was there to become an 11 bravo.”
With a confused look on the face of the NCO on duty, he finally realized who I was and that’s how my first day started, added Sylvester-Rivera.
Sylvester-Rivera knew she had to prove herself to become ‘one of the guys’ her first opportunity came during the Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT). “I scored a 300 points on my PT test and I finished my five-mile assessment run in less than 36 minutes,” said Sylvester-Rivera. “I think after those events, I prove to everybody that I really wanted to be there and to achieve my goal.
There were some obvious differences between a signal Soldier and an infantryman’s training.
“We were taught and trained much different from the regular Army. I learned how to do 50-meter dry fires, that was something I never experienced,” said Sylvester-Rivera.
She had to go back and relearn some of the basics.
“The way I used to low crawl is now considered high crawling,” laughed Sylvester-Rivera. “It took some time to get used to it, but I was able to adapt.”
When a Soldier has the title of ‘first’ in anything pertaining to the Army, the extra amount of pressure could cause some doubt.
“I believe if you’re going to shoot for the stars you need to be fully prepared to make it and not fail,” said Sylvester-Rivera.
After completing each and every task along the way, Sylvester-Rivera was ready to be turned blue.
“My drill sergeants said out of the four females that were reclassing, that I was ‘the one’ who deserved this the most,” said Sylvester-Rivera. “I was honored to consider that great in their eyes.”
‘Turning Blue’ is a ceremony where newly qualified infantrymen receive their Infantry Blue Cords 16 weeks of One Station Unit Training (OSUT).
Though Sylvester-Rivera has graduated the real work now begins.
“I want to teach my Soldiers and groom them for the future. I want to show them that along the way nothing is ever given to you have to work hard for whatever you want to achieve in life,” said Sylvester-Rivera.
Her first step at mentoring Soldiers will come once she PCS’s (permanent change of station) to Fort Bragg, North Carolina this summer.
“I want to get an opportunity to have my own firing team, deploy as an infantryman and to develop the next set of great infantrymen that will follow after me,” said Sylvester-Rivera.
Regardless of the past and what is to come, Sylvester-Rivera knows how to make it through every test.
“Being humbled and continuing to learn everything that I can so that I can train up someone like me along the way,” said Sylvester-Rivera.