Female sergeant major makes history

Story by Staff Sgt. Scott Raymond, Kentucky National Guard Public Affairs

In recognition of March as Women’s Month, kentuckyguard.com is publishing a series of articles honoring women who are significant figures in Kentucky’s military history.  The following is one such story ….

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Kentucky adjutant general, Maj. Gen. Edward W. Tonini presents Sgt. Maj. Pat Copas with a plaque upon her promotion to the rank of command sergeant major during a promotion ceremony at Boone National Guard Center in Frankfort, Ky., Oct. 31, 2012. Copas is just the third female to hold the rank of command sergeant major. (KYNG photo by Staff Sgt. Scott Raymond)

FRANKFORT, Ky. — In the history of the Kentucky National Guard, only three female Soldiers have risen to the rank of command sergeant major.  In October of 2012, Pat Copas became the third.  There are only 18 command sergeants major in all of Kentucky’s citizen-Soldiers, of which two are female, Copas and Command Sgt. Maj. Teresa Rea.Copas admits that it’s sometimes more difficult for females to progress in their careers, but says if they work hard and stay focused, they too can prove they are equals and do the job just as well.

“I feel very blessed that our leadership had the confidence to select me for greater responsibilities,” she said of being promoted to command sergeant major.  “Getting to this point in my career has been very challenging but also very rewarding.”

Copas has served in the Kentucky Guard since 1981 when she enlisted as a traditional Soldier in the 475th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH). She has been a full-time Soldier since 1983, working in supply and personnel.  She called becoming first sergeant of Joint Force Headquarters in 2005 a highlight of her career as she had the opportunity to work directly with Soldiers and to have a greater impact on their training and welfare.

Her role of “great responsibility” has her working to improve readiness of Soldiers and advance their professional development, but also to improve diversity

1993 35th AV

Then Staff Sgt. Pat Copas worked as unit supply sergeant for the 63rd Theater Aviation Brigade in Frankfort, Ky., 1993. (Courtesy photo)

A command sergeant major is the highest ranking enlisted advisor to the commander, and Copas nows overseas the most diverse battalion in the Kentucky Guard.  The 751st Troop Command is made up of nearly 700 Soldiers, and roughly 20 percent are female. The battalion is made up of units from Richmond to Paducah, including transportation units, a medical company and the 202nd Army Band.”The 751st is the most diverse in Kentucky due to the multiple types of units. The Kentucky National Guard is working to improve diversity within our organization but we still have a long way to go.”

Copas said she wants to see more professional and dedicated females strive to attain leadership positions in the Guard.  She pointed out Sgt. Maj. Janet Timberlake, who also was recently promoted, becoming the first African-American female sergeant major in Kentucky. She also became the sixth female to hold the rank.

“It’s Soldiers like Sergeant Major Timberlake that exemplifies what a Soldier should be,” said Copas. “She is a very dedicated and hard-working leader who embodies the seven Army values. I was very proud to see this senior NCO, a female, promoted to the rank of sergeant major.”

1985 supply with 475th

Pat Copas waves from the cab of a supply truck of the 475th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH) in 1985. (Courtesy photo)

Copas said some of the proudest moments of her career are the opportunities she gets to see Soldiers that she mentored progress in the Guard.  Working at the unit level allowed her to work closely with Soldiers and now she is taking that approach to the next level.  The rank has changed and her duties are different, where she may have more on her to-do list, but the basic characteristics of a NCO remain. She is still in the business of taking care of Soldiers.”When I think back on my life before the Guard, what I have accomplished makes me very proud,” she said.

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