Santa Maria Sun / News
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 13, Issue 20
Woman in combatSanta Maria's Florinda Camarillo-Hernandez is ready to fight on the front lines
BY KRISTINA SEWELL
The M1 Abrams tank weighs in at a formidable 62.8 tons of heavy metal. It can reach a top speed of 45 miles per hour. Originally entering the U.S. Army service in 1980, the M1 Abrams tank uses mobility, shock effect, and sheer firepower to eliminate enemy forces.
Equipped with a 105-millimeter main armament gun, the tank is ideal for defending and attacking on the most lethal of battlefields.
For as long as these arms vehicles have been available to the United States military, the job of maintaining, repairing, and operating the tanks has been the sole responsibility of men.
Florinda Camarillo-Hernandez, a 19-year-old resident of Santa Maria, will soon be training to operate and maintain the M1 Abrams tank.
The daughter of a single mother and the middle of three sisters, Camarillo-Hernandez is polite and reserved.
Inherently quiet, but confident in her words when she speaks, Camarillo-Hernandez graduated from Santa Maria High School in 2011. At some point in her high school career, she decided to join the military.
She spent her first year out of high school at home, where she consulted her friends and little sister about her impending decision. Even though she admits it took her awhile, she’s proud of the choice she made.
“I wanted to be part of something important and do something good,” Camarillo-Hernandez said. “I will be serving my country, and I’m proud.”
Sitting in the efficiently organized military recruiting office, wearing her Army-issue sweatpants and black Army T-shirt, Camarillo-Hernandez explained calmly and with poise how she ended up choosing this particular field.
After arriving at the recruiting station at the Santa Maria Town Center mall, she spoke with a counselor about the different jobs available to women in the military. The opportunity that appealed to her most was the 91AM1 Abrams Tank Systems maintainer.
“It sounded interesting, and I like fixing things,” Camarillo-Hernandez said with a smile.
With her mechanically inclined mind made up, she signed up for the job and hasn’t looked back. What this future soldier didn’t know was that her decision would bear so much significance to women.
Army Recruiting Sgt. Lekeisha Moore said the reactions have been unexpected.
“She didn’t even realize how huge the decision was,” Moore said.
In February, the Army announced its intent to open six new occupational specialties to women. In May 2012, the Army opened 14,000 combat-related jobs to women, including new enlistees or current soldiers. Some of these new opportunities include Launch Rocket System crewmember, artillery mechanic, Bradley Fighting Vehicle System maintainer, and M1 Abrams Tank System maintainer.
According to a February 2012 press release from the Army, an additional 1,186 positions were opened to women at the battalion level across the Army, Marine Corps, and Navy. These occupations were already open to women, but only at the brigade level.
Women were officially restricted from combat-related military occupations in 1994, when the Secretary of Defense established the Combat Exclusion Policy, which banned women in the military from ground combat assignments.
But with women now making up to 16 percent of the Army population, and serving in more than 78 percent of the Army’s occupations, the military decided it was time to make a move.
According to Army officials, because there are no front lines in Afghanistan, the military could no longer exclude women from combat. As a result, combat arms career fields in 80 different units were opened in May to women, according to Michael Fletcher, the chief of public affairs, Fresno Battalion.
Despite the forward progress, there are still 280,000 positions that remain closed to women. But recruiter Moore feels the recent changes mark an important step for women in the military.
“If the person is qualified, it shouldn’t matter if they are male or female,” Moore said.
Camarillo-Hernandez is scheduled to depart in January for Fort Jackson, followed by a move to South Carolina for nine weeks of basic combat training and then 16 weeks at Fort Benning, Ga., where she’ll learn more about her job and the skills required.
Moore said Camarillo-Hernandez will be given an assignment at a later date, and isn’t guaranteed to deploy.
Camarillo-Hernandez is studying and completing vigorous physical training every day to prepare for her future military career. Moore said she’s extremely dedicated.
“She has enormous character,” Moore noted. “I can see her going far.”
Camarillo-Hernandez is both excited and nervous about her job. But with a maturity
that defies her 19 years, she’s ready to accept the challenge.
Staff Writer Kristina Sewell can be contacted at email@example.com.
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