By Pfc. Joshua Taeckens
U.S. Army South
U.S. Army Capt. Heather A. Meier, a physician assistant at the U.S. Army South Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, slings her stethoscope around her neck and cracks a joke as a patient enters the office. They share a familiar chuckle and a smile as Meier begins with a medical check-up.
Meier is one of the brave, valiant women who have played vital roles in our Army since the Revolutionary War. During the month of March, Women’s History Month, the U.S. Army celebrates the important contributions of women to our nation, both historically and today.
“I was always interested in medicine,” said Meier.
It was in high school when a teacher encouraged her to take a first responder medical class that Meier fell in love with medicine.
“It prepared me to sit for the emergency medical technician exam once I turned 18,” Meier said.
Meier worked as an EMT while she studied at Winona State University. After she graduated in 2011, she direct commissioned into the Army as a registered nurse.
While stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, she experienced an event that changed her life.
On April 2, 2014, an active shooter on Fort Hood killed three people and injured 14 others before committing suicide. Meier was working late in the operation room at the hospital on base and cared for a patient who was shot in the neck.
“I felt helpless and wanted to do more,” said Meier.
This prompted Meier’s resignation from active-duty service to transition into the U.S. Army Reserve while she pursued her Masters of Science in Physician Assistant Studies. However, before she could graduate, in July 2018, she was deployed to the Middle East where she spent time in Qatar, Kuwait and Jordan.
Keeping up with her studies while deployed was challenging, but she ultimately completed her graduation requirements and clinical rotations while working at the U.S. Army hospital at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait.
“I was incredibly lucky to attend a college that was military friendly and to have amazingly supportive leadership at my unit,” Meier said. “After I came back, I passed my board exam and direct commissioned as a physician assistant.”
Meier’s exemplary display of resiliency is much like that of the women who came before her in the Army. Women who previously served have paved the way for what is possible today for women in military service.
Today, women serve in every career field in the Army and are critical members of the Army team. As gender roles in the military expand, Meier says it’s important to see Soldiers as equals no matter their gender.
The Army has trained more than 1,400 female Soldiers into Infantry, Armor, and field artillery occupations and 38 women have graduated Ranger School.
Even though women’s roles have expanded, Meier believes progress still needs to be made. She finds negative comments about female service members on some social media threads discouraging.
“It’s just that maybe some men haven't actually worked with women who can do (the job), or they have their idea of a woman’s role, and this isn’t it,” said Meier. “There’s nothing wrong with that, but not every woman is going to be your traditional woman at home.”
Although Meier doesn’t have a problem with traditional ideals, she does have a problem with people insulting the brave women who serve this country.
“I know there’s always going to be issues with change and that’s just how it goes,” she said with a shrug. “But you don’t need to be rude to people who don't fit your idea of a traditional person.”
Soldiers, regardless of gender, complete the same training and must pass the same requirements to be awarded a Military Occupational Specialty in any career field.
Meier says although it may be difficult to change a person’s fundamental beliefs, the Equal Opportunity program of the Army, coupled with a generational shift in ideas around traditional gender roles, makes her feel optimistic about the future.
“I think as the younger generations have been brought up differently, you’ll see a generational change,” Meier said. “I think having more women out there, proving that they can do it, will ultimately change the mindset of some people that women can’t do these jobs, because we can, and we are doing it.”
Women’s History Month stands as a reminder of the strength the Army has gained, and will gain, through having a high-quality, diverse all-volunteer force.