Editor’s note: March is Women’s History Month, and as its observance draws to a close, Capt. Peter Owen, the commander of the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s 273rd Engineer Company, and the State Equal Employment Manager, offered his perspectives.
Serving as the Commander of the 273rd Engineer Company (Wheeled Sapper), an all-male and combat arms organization, has been the greatest experience in my military career. What distinguishes this above all else is the opportunity to work with top-notch personnel within the unit and at the next higher levels of command. Each of the battalion and brigade commanders I’ve worked for has been outstanding and gone beyond their duty description to improve the organization.
What does commanding an all-male company have to do with Women’s History Month? EVERYTHING – when you consider that one of my battalion commanders and two of my brigade commanders have been female.
In retrospect, what I believe is the best testament to the quality of their leadership is the fact that it never occurred to me that it might be rare that the battalion and brigade commanders for an all-male company are females. In fact, it was not until the occasion of Women’s History Month that I paid specific attention to the fact that my commanders and mentors have been female.
It is always difficult to proclaim that an event such as an all-male unit being commanded by females at the next two higher levels is a “first” considering the size and complexity of our organization. However, I can say that after talking to historians at both National Guard Bureau and the US Army Corps of Engineers neither were previously aware of such an occurrence.
Having worked with many women who are now both mentors and friends, I expect that females commanding similar types of units will not be an “occurrence” in the future. Instead, I expect it to be standard practice. I do not make this statement because of the pending changes to the Department of Defense and Army policy regarding females serving in combat units and previously closed military occupational specialties. I believe females will have opportunities – and excel in those opportunities – because of the abilities and traits I have personally witnessed and the trust bestowed upon them by the Wisconsin National Guard.
I have found that the qualities of the best leaders include, but are not limited to intelligence, dedication to the mission and organization (including its people), honesty, technical and tactical expertise, strategic vision, an ability to inspire and being both an innovative and adaptable thinker. While these qualities are found only in a select group of individuals, it is the qualities held by the individuals in this group and not their gender that make the group so exclusive.
From my perspective, the Wisconsin National Guard and its commissioning sources have done their job training and developing a corps of strong female officers that currently serve in Engineer, Logistics, Aviation, Medical, Military Police and Military Intelligence commands among others. In the near future we will see the success of the next generation of capable female leaders that have more opportunities in the military than ever before.