Women's History Month: Illinois Guardsman recalls Women's Army Corps service Print
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Written by Staff Sgt. Jaime Witt, 139th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment   
Friday, 29 March 2013 13:08

SPRINGFIELD, IL (03/29/2013)(readMedia)-- Each March, Women's History Month celebrations highlight the accomplishments of women everywhere. Women have served in the active component since World War II, however women were not allowed to enlist in the Army National Guard with no prior service until 1972. Sgt. 1st Class Wendy Bartlett of Bloomington, Ill., is one of the few remaining women who served in the Women's Army Corps (WAC) and still serves in the Illinois Army National Guard today. The WAC was a part of the active Army, though a separate Corps until 1978.

Bartlett, an Officer Candidate School instructor with the 3rd Battalion, 129th Regional Training Institute (RTI) in Springfield, enlisted in 1975 and attended basic training in 1976, followed by advanced individual training as a personnel actions specialist. She said this was one of the only jobs females were allowed to hold at that time.

"We were an all-female basic training unit," Bartlett said. "We learned how to wear our uniforms, put make-up on, do our hair, shoot our weapons, throw hand grenades, go through the tear gas chamber, do (physical training) in combat boots, uniform pants and t-shirts, learn self-defense, and other classes."

Bartlett recalled having a slight disadvantage during her initial training because of her size.

"I remember that in basic training I needed to carry a milk crate strapped to my backpack one time, so that I could use it to get in and out of a foxhole for grenade training," she said.

Despite this, Bartlett also remembered benefiting from a rare skill during her basic training.

"(Instructors) were asking if anyone could drive a stick-shift vehicle, which at that time most women did not," Bartlett said. "I was one of three in our whole battalion who could drive a stick shift. I ended up being the battalion driver, which gave me driver duty often, affording me some time off from the strenuous training."

After training, Bartlett served with the 123rd Infantry out of Bloomington, Ill. Following her initial enlistment, she transferred to the Army Reserve in Peoria, Ill., before taking a 14-year break in service.

"After about 14 years of being out, I reenlisted into the Army Reserve, as I wanted to be an instructor and they had a position open for me," said Bartlett, a middle school teacher with Tri-Valley Middle School in Downs, Ill. "I found that I liked the Guard unit in Springfield, the 129th RTI, so I transferred to that unit."

Bartlett said she had good memories and experiences from her time in the service.

"My life is full of great stories," Bartlett said. "A few years ago I was in charge of a unit of instructors sent to Poland to teach a Senior Leadership Course to the Polish Army. It was a course that I had a major part in writing. It was the last year that we went to teach it and it was an honor being the one in charge of it."

Women in the Illinois National Guard, like Bartlett, as well as the rest of the military, now have an opportunity to further broaden their experiences, following the recent ending of the direct ground combat exclusion rule for women in the military Jan. 24, 2013. Because of this, female servicemembers can now serve in occupations and units, which place them directly in combat roles.

"Women have always played a significant role in our wars," said Adriana Schroeder of Springfield, the Illinois National Guard command historian. "At least three women in Illinois units dressed and fought as men during the Civil War. In addition to those who donned the uniform, every woman who ever put a bandage on a Soldier, sent a care package or took care of things at home during deployment has played a role."

Bartlett said she found her career to be a rewarding experience and would tell any woman, or man, thinking of joining the military to go for it.

"My life has changed from my experiences," Bartlett said, "and I don't regret any moment of it."

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