Guardsman first female fire-support specialist Army-wide

By Sgt. 1st Class Gina Vaile-Nelson, 133rd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

Staff Sgt. Billie Jacobs became the first female fire support specialist (13F) in the Army May 5 when she graduated from a 13F classification course at the 189th Regional Training Institute in Oklahoma City, Okla. Jacobs currently serves as a supply sergeant with the 63rd Theater Aviation Brigade. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Scott Raymond)

Staff Sgt. Billie Jacobs became the first female fire support specialist (13F) in the Army May 5 when she graduated from a 13F classification course at the 189th Regional Training Institute in Oklahoma City, Okla. Jacobs currently serves as a supply sergeant with the 63rd Theater Aviation Brigade. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Scott Raymond)

FRANKFORT, Ky. — Tucked away in a supply office at Armory 1 in Frankfort, Staff Sgt. Billie Jacobs, a supply sergeant for Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 63rd Theater Aviation Brigade tries to stay under the radar.

She’ll lend a hand to anyone who asks, but would rather not bring any attention to herself. That’s probably why you didn’t even know that recently, Jacobs graduated as the first female 13-F fire-support specialist in the U.S. Army.

“I never cared to be the first in anything, but being a grunt and leading troops has been where my heart was from the beginning,” Jacobs said.

When she reported to the Oklahoma National Guard’s 189th Regional Training Institute in Norman, Oklahoma, Jacobs said it was as routine as checking in to any duty station. Running through her mind was the “same thing that has been there as the only female since I was 13.

“I wrestled on an all-male team, infantry certainly didn’t appreciate females being around and my last re-class was all men,” she said. “It’s no biggie.

“If you go in there and prove yourself as a Soldier, the actions will speak louder for yourself than words; and their words meant nothing in the big scheme of things,” she said.

A transition into any new Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) is difficult. But for Jacobs, the tough academic schedule and physical demands weren’t the issue.

“There were a lot of opinionated males who thought females literally shouldn’t be allowed to even vote,” she said.

“Ninety percent [of my classmates] were supportive, but I had two that I’ll never forget because of their complete rebellion to the changes the Army is undergoing,” she said. “They’ll get used to it or they won’t, but that boat has already left the shore.”

The “boat,” Jacobs referred to is the January 2016 implementation of Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s plan that lifted all gender-based restrictions on military service. The decision opened more than 200,000 jobs across the military – roughly 10 percent of the force – to women. The 13F  MOS was the only field artillery job that hadn’t been opened to women.

Other support roles, such as 92Y supply sergeant allowed women to serve alongside infantry or other male-dominated fields. This is where Jacobs spent her first years in the Kentucky Guard. She also volunteered for Joint Support Operations, Kentucky’s Counterdrug mission where she egressed from hollers and fields via static line attached to a UH-60. You could almost say she is as fearless as any other male counterpart.

The rigorous training schedule at 13F-school required hours of memorizing new military jargon used by field artillery and special operations. She had to become proficient at identifying weapons systems necessary to eliminate a threat and methods for remaining concealed. Students became experts in map reading and land navigation and understood that any mistake made on a map overlay could cause serious collateral damage. Ruck marches and field exercises would be enough for some to ring the bell and quit. Even the hardest of Soldiers.

But Jacobs said her mental capacity to never give up and not let down the people who believe in her is what kept her going then, through the 13F course and now.

“Mind over matter is real and having heart can push you through things your body swears it can’t,” she said.

Jacobs said she didn’t do anything extra to prepare for 13F-school. As a body builder, wrestling coach and all around “PT-stud,” Jacobs was already in prime shape.

“You should always be prepared for anything,” she said. “Were there moments where I knew I would have to shatter ceilings? Every opportunity I tried to, because I didn’t want to be looked at as weak or incapable.

“I tried to shatter ceilings in some aspect, everywhere I’ve been and with all the challenging things in life I’ve experienced,” Jacobs said.

Those life lessons and motivations not only impact her subordinates and leaders, but also her community. As a coach for the Anderson County Youth Club wrestling team, Jacobs helped coach a team of 48 young boys and girls. The team placed 13th out of 60 teams in the State Wrestling Finals for 2016.

“Billie is the type of person who you want as a role model,” said 1st Lt. Jonathan Strayer, training officer for the 751st Troop Command. Strayer asked Jacobs to assist with coaching the team this year.

“At work, if you task Billie with something, she does it without needing direction or guidance,” he said. “On the mats with the kids, she brings that same dedication and determination but easily tailors her lessons to individual kids’ abilities.

Even though Jacobs doesn’t have any children, Strayer said her interactions with them was natural, proving that her leadership qualities and dedication to building a successful team come from within.

“Her sportsmanship and professional nature taught the team that a female can do anything,” he said. “Just by doing something she loves (wrestling), she was able to teach these young men, and especially the young girls that women are equal and in many regards can even outwrestle us.”

Jacobs admits that sometimes it’s hard for men to be outdone by women – especially for her young wrestling students.

“Men who are out there to be Soldiers could care less (about a female in their ranks), because they know their capabilities and a woman being around won’t change those,” she said. “I think the men who struggle are extremely intimidated because no one – not even myself – likes to be shown up in any area by a female.

“But I’m just a person doing exactly the things I love,” she said. “I love wrestling and coaching, passing on my knowledge to a strong youth for the next generation. These are the same principles I use in the military.”

Now that she can hang a 13F diploma on her wall, Jacobs knows that being the first female to have the title is an honor, and she hopes other women will follow suit.

“Don’t be afraid,” she said to women who are considering joining combat roles. “Words can’t kill you but they sure can help motivate you.

“Get in there and just do it if you want to, but don’t go home a quitter,” she said. “Go home broken and bruised but not a quitter. It’s OK to cry at night, to curse the ones who intentionally try to make your life tough, but in front of them, act as if you are made of iron and be resilient.

“Push through. You literally can do anything you put your mind to, beating yourself is the first step.”

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