Spc. Tinita Taylor participates in the Jungle Operations Training Course. (Courtesy photo)
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About six months after opening, the Army’s Jungle Operations Training Course in Hawaii graduated its first female soldier.
Spc. Tinita Taylor, with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, earned her Jungle Expert tab June 9.
Initial news of her accomplishment was greeted with kudos as well as some criticism from others who didn’t like her use of the term “warrior princess.”
Army Times talked to Taylor, a signal support systems specialist, June 12 to share her story. Excerpts from the interview:
Q. How did you end up at the Jungle Operations Training Course?
A. I volunteered. I heard it was a new course, and I wanted to try it out.
At first, my first sergeant and my commander told us we were going for 21 days, but we found out you only had to go for six to seven days, just learning the techniques of being in the jungle. So when we got there, we thought we’d be there for a week, but my first sergeant said, ‘We’re going to push a little bit more, and we’re going to go out there with the infantry.’
Q. What did you do?
A. I decided if I was going to be out there anyway, I’d go out with the guys.
We got attached to Charlie Company, 2nd Battalion, 27th Infantry, and they threw me in as a [squad automatic weapon] gunner.
Q. How would you describe the experience?
A. Challenging. I’d never done anything like that.
Out of the whole three weeks, I’d say there was a week where it did not rain. It rained so much, I can’t even describe it. The instructors even looked like they felt sorry for us.
Q. How did you get through the 21-day course?
A. I had some great motivation. My first sergeant found me the second week, and I expressed to him, ‘I can’t do it.’
He looked at me and said, ‘You’re going to do it.’
Staff Sgt. [Josaiah] Milo, he was my squad leader. He saw potential in me … and he told the others, ‘Don’t worry about her gender, she’s a soldier.’
And one soldier out of the squad, Spc. Rivera , when I first got there, he was the only person who came up and shook my hand. The whole time we were there, he was my battle buddy.
Those three impacted me out there. Without them, I know I couldn’t probably have made it the whole 21 days.
Q. How did it feel when you finished the course?
A. When I made it, that day, we just did an ambush. It was our last one, and I pulled guard that night. It tore me up.
In the morning, Rivera said, ‘Look at the sunrise, Taylor,’ and I looked over, it was the most beautiful sunrise I’d ever seen in my life, and he looked at me and said, ‘You made it.’
I just said a prayer. I just felt so proud.
Q. What types of barriers, if any, did you face?
A. This is infantry we’re talking about here. These are guys who know they’re going to war and know they’re going to get into firefights. Me being there, of course I was not accepted at first.
Every day, for the first two weeks, they’d wake up and say, ‘She didn’t leave yet?’
They tested me the whole time I was there until the last week, until they finally said, ‘Taylor, you’re not going nowhere, we’re so proud of you.’
Q. How do you think you won them over?
A. They just want to see you prove yourself without any favoritism. They want to see you do what they do because they do this every day. Infantry doesn’t play. They respected me at the end, but I earned my respect.
Q. You have described yourself as a ‘warrior princess,’ which seemed to rub some people online the wrong way. Do you regret using that term, and what does that mean to you?
A. A soldier is a warrior. You have your everyday soldiers, but you have your killers. Infantry, Ranger, Special Forces, those are warriors. Those men are warrior kings.
I’m not a warrior queen. As a princess, I’m just starting off.
Q. What’s next for you?
A. I’m in the process of training right now for Ranger School. That’s my No. 1 goal. I was thinking about [special operations’ cultural support teams], but right now air assault school is something I’m working to knock out.
I’m 25, I’m single, I don’t have any kids, so anything that can make me a better soldier, a better warrior, I want to do.■