Every soldier in the Nebraska Army National Guard has a story: the reasons why they joined the military, picked their particular military occupational specialty (MOS) job, or serve in their military unit of choice.
For two soldiers serving in the Nebraska Army National Guard's Troop B, 1-134th Cavalry, the stories are particularly different than those around them. That's because Sgt. Nicole Havlovic and Sgt. Danielle Martin are two of only a very few women serving in the Nebraska cavalry squadron. In fact, the two Nebraskans are one of only a few women in the nation who have successfully graduated from the Army's tough combat arms MOS school and earned the title of "cavalry scout."
Havlovic originally joined the Nebraska Army National Guard as a water treatment specialist. However, after serving for six years, she decided to leave the Guard for a year. "I got out because I was bored," Havlovic said. "I really didn't have any guidance about what I could do or what the possibilities were. I wanted to do something different and fun and be out there training."
It was that desire to do something different that drove Havlovic to join the Nebraska Army Guard cavalry squadron. "I felt like it would be a really good fit. I'm pretty outdoorsy and this -- being out in the field -- doesn't bother me at all," Havlovic said.
Sgt. Danielle Martin's route to being a cavalry scout was not a direct one, either.
Sgt. Danielle Martin approaches the finish of a ruck march during the 1-134th Cavalry Squadron's spur ride during annual training in the Republic of Korea June 18, 2019.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Anna Pongo)
"I've always wanted to go into combat arms," Martin said. "It really was a year before joining the military that I knew combat arms was what I wanted to do. However, I was still junior enlisted and so I really couldn't do much about it."
The last restrictions against women serving in combat roles were lifted in 2013. However, Army regulations specified that units were first required to have two female cavalry scouts in leadership positions before other female soldiers would be allowed to join their ranks. This made integrating junior-ranking women into the units all that much more difficult.
So, Martin began her career in the Nebraska Army National Guard as an automated logistical specialist before joining a military police unit. After rising to the rank of sergeant, Martin said she finally saw a way to reach her combat arms goal.
"It was already on my radar that I had just gotten my E-5 [sergeant] and I wanted to go to 19-Delta [cavalry scout] school," Martin said.
Both Sergeants attended a cavalry scout reclassification school, an Army school designed to train soldiers from other MOS in the skills needed to become operational cavalry scouts. Martin attended the November reclassification course in Boise, Idaho. After completing the course, she reported to the Mead, Nebraska-based Troop B this past January.
Martin said the reception she received from her new unit let her know that they respected her newly-earned skills. It wasn't about changing who anyone was, she said, but having a mutual respect between soldiers.
"They don't treat me any differently just because I'm female," said Martin. "I'm one of the guys and I think it needs to be that way... I'm not coming in here to change them. I'm coming in here because I know I can physically and mentally handle it, and I want to do the job."
Havlovic attended the cavalry scout transition course in Smyrna, Tennessee, and reported to Troop B in April 2019. She said her fellow soldiers don't treat her differently than any other member of the unit.
"They really don't treat me any differently," Havlovic said. "I don't expect them to…I expect them to believe that they can trust me with the mission and what we have to do and be able to keep up and be trustworthy and dependable…Everyone has actually been really welcoming to me."
With Havlovic and Martin completing their transition courses, Nebraska National Guard's 1-134th Cavalry Squadron became the ninth Army National Guard unit, fourth Cavalry Troop and second Infantry Brigade Combat Team Cavalry Troop to be opened for junior enlisted female cavalry scouts.
1st Sgt. Andrew Filips, Troop B's senior enlisted soldier, has spent 15 years in the squadron. He said the change of policy wasn't an issue.
"What it really comes down to is that we're a combat arms unit and there's only one standard," Filips said. "You either perform or you leave. You either make the cut or there are other units for you to go to."
Nebraska National Guard Soldiers with the 1-134th Cavalry Squadron receive certificates and silver spurs after successful completion of a spur ride during annual training in the Republic of Korea June 21, 2019.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Anna Pongo)
1st Sgt. Christopher Marcello of Grand Island's Troop A, 1-134th Cavalry Squadron, is a 22-year veteran of the cavalry squadron. He has also been a member of the Grand Island Police Department for six years. He echoed Filips' thoughts.
"I work with women every day as a police officer and that's a tough job where you can get punched in the face, or shot or beat up and you have women doing that every day. So combat arms isn't any different," Marcello said. "You have to have the right fit. It doesn't matter if you're a man or a woman. It doesn't matter. You have to be the right kind of person to be a scout."
The Nebraska Army National Guard's 1-134th Cavalry Squadron is part of the larger 39th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, which is headquartered in Arkansas. The brigade is responsible for providing training and readiness oversight of its subordinate units. According to Command Sgt. Maj. Gregory White, the 39th IBCT senior enlisted leader, the way the brigade finds the right soldiers for their difficult job has changed from looking at who can physically do it to those who want to do it.
White also said that women who hold a combat arms MOS are the best representatives to recruit other women into the field.
White spoke with Martin during a visit to B Troop's recent annual training in the Republic of Korea. They both agreed the focus should be on reaching out to women who want the challenge of serving in combat arms positions, and once they do, give them the tools they need to become advocates.
"Having her [Martin] talk to them is going to be so much better than a guy who has been in for 30 years," White said. "A 50-year-old man talking to these young women just is not going to reach them in the same way as when she talks to them."
Filips says the physical demands are not the only aspect of combat arms that new recruits need to consider. The relatively demanding training pace also makes combat arms units different. Troop B regularly trains in the field and spends most drill weekends training throughout the night. That is often one of the bigger reasons why some soldiers eventually choose to transfer into the squadron.
"If you want to come into the Guard and feel like this is what I want to do; (that) I want to… be awesome and be the baddest dudes and wear the cool hats and do all that, then yes go for it," said Filips. "But if you are 'I want to try this because it would be neat', there's other places to be neat. Come here because this is what you always wanted to do in life. You have to want it."
Marcello seconded those comments, adding that Troop A is willing to let soldiers -- male or female -- try being a cavalry scout for their drill weekend.
"We're more than happy to let people come in, try it out and if it doesn't work for you, we get it," he said. "It doesn't have anything to do with gender, doesn't have anything to do with sex; it has to do with can you do the job."
Both Havlovic and Martin said they realize they are now mentors and role models for those around them. They are also quick to encourage other soldiers to give it a try.
"It's definitely something I would sit down, explain to them and educate them on," said Havlovic, who now works for the state recruiting office.
"It's not for everybody. It really isn't. I don't believe that just because combat arms has been opened up to females mean that all females belong here. But if you can do it, then do it."
This article originally appeared on United States Army. Follow @USArmy on Twitter.