The Army rarely changes in giant leaps, but its small steps forward can have the greatest impact.

On Jan. 9, 1st Sgt. Raquel Steckman reported as the new first sergeant of the 374th Engineer Company (Sapper) in Concord, California, becoming the first female combat engineer senior sergeant who is 12Z qualified to hold this leadership position in a Sapper unit.

"That's not that big a deal to the unit, not to me," Steckman said. "It is a big deal Armywide because it opens up more opportunities for females, but they don't treat me any different here."

Sappers fight toe to toe with other combat units to breach obstacles, lay bridges and clear the way for others. They have served in every conflict in American history, but until recently have been exclusive to menmales.

1st Sgt. Steckman's appointment represents a key pillar of the Army's "Soldier 2020" initiative: to cultivate a cadre of leaders to mentor future leaders who meet MOS-specific standards, regardless of gender.

"For me, it's just the natural progression of my career for my MOS," Steckman said. "

I'm an engineer, I've been an engineer my entire career. I know this stuff."


Photo Credit: Army

Steckman has held her MOS, 12C Bridge Crewmember, since she first joined the Army Reserves in 1998. The 12C and 12B Combat Engineer MOSs both combine into the 12Z Combat Engineering Senior Sergeant MOS upon promotion to E-8, and 12Cs and 12Bs train and fight together throughout their careers.

Of 442 current 12Zs Armywide, Steckman is one of only two women who are female 12Z, according to information provided by the Assistant Secretary of the Army – Manpower and Reserve Affairs/Army G-1.

The 12B MOS is the first of seven combat MOSs under the "Soldier 2020" plan on track to open to women, which could be as early as April 2015, pending Congressional notification by the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

The Soldier 2020 initiative was announced in 2013, and will identify physical requirements for every MOS – something not done since the 1970s – in order to set the standard for each, regardless of gender. The Army aims to open every MOS, unit and position previously closed to women females no later than Jan. 1, 2016.

"There's a misconception that female soldiers won't have to meet the same standards as male soldiers or that we're going to lower standards," previous Sergeant Major of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III said in an Army press release at the time.

"That's just not the case; this is about one standard applied equally across the force."

The 374th opened to women over the last year. Prior to Steckman's arrival, two female NCO medics were assigned to the unit in August 2014.

Sgt. 1st Class Pierre Brudnicki, motor sergeant for the 374th, is taken aback at the suggestion that Steckman's appointment is anything out of the ordinary.

"It's funny: people talk as if we've found the rainbow or just won a million dollars," Brudnicki said.

"But for us, it's just a normal day. It doesn't even cross your mind that she's a female when you're actually working and are in the game; she's a first sergeant."