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The Army's first female infantry recruit wants to be on the front lines

For Grace Barnett, a job as a patrol officer in a Louisiana town of about 2,500 people wasn't enough.

After 3½ years in law enforcement, "I was just ready to serve on a bigger level," she said Tuesday, five days after she took the oath of enlistment to become the Army's first female infantry recruit. "It's been in my heart for awhile, and I finally, I just could not put it off any longer. I'm ready to do this. I'm ready to get this ball rolling."

Barnett, 25, began the process in November, visiting a local recruiter five months before infantry and other combat-related jobs would open to women. She said she didn't know women weren't allowed to take on such roles, and she thought the military police would be a good fit after her time with the New Llano police.

When it was announced the jobs would be opened, infantry attracted Barnett immediately. She looked forward to "being on the front lines," she said. "Being able to get down and dirty with it. Being able to be in the middle of it. Being able to serve and fight. Protect my country. Similar to law enforcement."

Barnett wasn't sure she was the first infantry recruit until the day she took the oath at the Shreveport Military Entrance Processing Station, she said. Her recruiters, Staff Sgts. Robert Novak and Reynaldo Pena, were "ecstatic" to help her take on the challenge, Pena said Thursday.

"When she came in, you could kind of tell," he said. "When she made this choice, it wasn't shocking to us. … We know she has the attitude and the personality that embodies an infantry soldier. And we were all for it."

Barnett will have time and guidance to prepare: She won't report to Fort Benning, Georgia, until June 2017 – the first month available for female recruits enlisting in infantry military occupational specialties, Army Recruiting Command spokeswoman Kelli Bland said.

Other newly opened MOSs will have earlier ship dates, Bland said, with 13F (fire support specialist) shipping in September and 19-series MOSs (armor) reporting in March. One female 13F recruit already is on the books, USAREC officials said, and another was expected to take the oath this week.

Barnett will participate in weekly Future Soldier instruction until her report date, Pena said, which includes classroom time as well as physical training. She said she keeps in shape by running and with a home gym, and hoped to use the time between now and her report date "to tone everything up."

Future recruits, regardless of gender, are slated to face the Occupational Physical Assessment Test as part of their MOS qualification process. Those seeking MOS 11X, for example, may need higher scores than those in less-demanding fields.

Barnett, whose grandfather served in the Air Force, said family patriotism and desire for service led her to the Army, not the need to break glass ceilings.

"It's not about making history. It's about becoming part of the greatest team in the world," she said. "My family is behind me 100 percent. . I'm not paying attention a lot to what people are saying. This is what I want to do, and that's really all that matters."

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