She always wanted to join the infantry, despite a ban on women. On her forearm is a tattoo of flowers wrapped around a saying uttered by her single mother, who sometimes had to scrounge for change in the house to pay bills: âWeâll find a wayâ
As soon as the ban was lifted in 2016, Irelynn Donovan went to a local recruiter.
âI wanted to make history,â she said. âPave the way, if not for me, then for others.â
During training, she wrote home complaining that she was exhausted and tired of being yelled at. âEverything is chafing,â she wrote. But she became a standout, nailing the physical tests for both men and women when she did 79 push-ups in two minutes.
âHey, the infantryâs tough, manâ
Afghanistan and Iraq were turning points for the Armyâs thinking on women in combat. The wars forced thousands of women who were not technically combat troops into fire fights. Nearly 14,000 women were awarded the Combat Action Badge for engaging with the enemy. Today most of the men leading the Army have served with women in combat for years.
âWe saw it can work,â said Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Snow, who heads Army Recruiting Command at Fort Knox, Ky. âAnd now we have a generation that just wants to accomplish the mission and have the most talented people to do it.â
The Army is determined not to sacrifice performance for the sake of inclusion, and many women have not been able to meet the standard. Of the 32 who showed up at infantry boot camp in February, 44 percent dropped out. For the 148 men in the company, the dropout rate was just 20 percent.
Commanders say the higher dropout rate among females is in line with other demanding boot camps for military police and combat engineers, which have been open to women for years. In part, they say, it is a consequence of size. A 5-foot-2 woman has to carry the same weight and perform the same tasks as a man who stands a foot taller, and is more likely to be injured.