Women tough it out as sappers

Elite training school a physical grind

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“I hate riding the whole ‘women train,’ but I do think that by having more females out there that do have sapper [badges], it does show some of the younger ones that you can do it, you can do what the guys do, and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t,” she said.

Capt. Godman, 26, has always considered herself something of a tomboy since playing with her brother and other boys in Pleasant Hill, Calif. Influenced by a cousin who had joined the Army and her brother, who had become a National Guardsman, she began her military career as a musician before switching to the more “fun” job of Army engineer.

“Growing up with my brother, I was one of the guys. So it made it easier for me to come here and just be one of the guys since I’ve always been that way,” said Capt. Godman, who is 5-feet-4 and 122 pounds.

Capts. Armstrong and Godman helped motivate each other through the course.The two women met before while taking the sapper course for the first time: Capt. Godman dropped out because of an injury. Capt. Armstrong finished, but didn’t earn a badge. When Capt. Armstrong decided to try it again in June, she contacted Capt. Godman and encouraged her to come back.

In the field

During the first two weeks of sapper training, students undergo rigorous daily physical training and study first aid, navigation, demolition, air and water operations, mountaineering, weapons and land mines.

Along with taking written tests, they make and detonate explosives, rappel off a mountain carrying a person on their backs, jump from a helicopter into a lake with their rucksacks and swim to shore, and use rope to climb just about everything — including another rope.

The second phase of training puts them in the field, where they cover patrolling techniques and take turns leading raids and missions that include urban operations, reconnaissance, and raid and ambush tactics.

During this portion, the students spend 10 days and nine nights in the field, regardless of heat, rain or snow. It was now Day Eight, and two days earlier, they learned how to kill animals with their bare hands in order to survive.

“Everyone was looking to us for us to faint or pass out at the sight of the blood, but we were just sitting there smiling,” Capt. Armstrong said. “The rabbit’s not bad. … The chicken is disgusting, because once you rip its head off, the nerves twitch really bad, and the blood just kind of goes everywhere.”

As much as the two women tried to blend in with men who were twice their size, there were certain challenges to being a woman — going to the bathroom in the field being one of them.

“The guys will just take two steps and just [urinate] in the woods. But as a female, you have to wander off deep into the woods so nobody can see you. Plus, there’s like 31 guys and two females, so chances are, everybody’s trying to use the wood line at the same time, so you have to go even further,” Capt. Armstrong said.

Back at their barracks at Fort Leonard Wood, the male students share one bathroom, while the women share a bathroom with the cadre of teachers grading the class. A red, double-sided plastic sign on the door identifies the bathroom occupant. One side reads “Cadre,” the other “Female.”

Another issue, the menstrual cycle.

“I can’t say it’s tougher to be a female. I’m pretty sure if you threw in some cramps towards a guy, he wouldn’t handle it the same way as a female would. We just have to take care of ourselves differently. So that was a challenge. Other than that, I don’t think there’s any difference between me and the rest of the guys. I’m just a smaller one,” Capt. Godman said with a laugh.

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