Women in the military: local veterans reflect on their time in the service

By Amber McIver-Traywick

The Surveyor

Right now about 14.5% of active-duty military personnel are women. Although women have actively participated in protecting their homelands throughout history they have progressively gained the ability to take on more roles in the military. Most recently, on January 1, 2016 all military positions were finally made available to women. Veterans Day is a time to honor all of the men and women who have served our country and the following are three women who have done just that.

Belinda Ochoa – United States Army

Belinda Ochoa served in the United States Army from 2011-2014 on active duty and was deployed for a year to Afghanistan. Currently she calls Windsor Colo. home, after falling in love with the state while serving at Fort Carson in Colorado Springs. 

In 2011 Ochoa graduated college in only three years with a business degree. She didn’t inform her family of her plan to join the Army until after she had enlisted. Despite her ability to join as an officer due to her degree she wanted to go in as enlisted, starting from the bottom and working her way up, “I wanted to make sure that I knew what I was doing before I started leading other soldiers,” she said.

Belinda Ochoa during her service with the United States Army from 2011-2014.

As is the case for all military personnel her first taste of the military life came in the form of basic training that took place at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri where military police and some of the more demanding military specialists train. Despite the grueling nature of basic training Ochoa said it was a great experience, “They do push you to the brink only to remind you that you can’t break, to teach you how far you really can push yourself.”

She knew from the first time she spoke to an Army recruiter that she wanted to be a Military Intelligence Analyst and was selected to fulfill that position. After 6 months of intensive training in Arizona Ochoa was ready to take on her role. Analysts play a crucial role in keeping the men and women on the ground safe. They take information gathered by military intelligence agents to figure out what the enemy is up to, what they might do, where they might go and what resources they have available to them.

A few months after being assigned her first duty station, Fort Carson, Ochoa received orders that in 30 days she would be pulled from her unit and deployed to Afghanistan to serve there. “At first I was very nervous, after researching the base and the area of Afghanistan I started with some fear and nerves and by the end of the night I was excited, definitely looking forward to doing my part, I enlisted for that reason to be called to action was kind of uplifting, I knew I had a purpose,” she said.

Ochoa was sent to Bagram Air Base in Parvan Province in Eastern Afghanistan in Nov. 2012 working in a small Special Forces compound where she studied west and southwest Afghanistan monitoring traffic and the movement of people and resources throughout the country. While there she worked alongside Army, Navy and Marines along with members of the DIA, FBI and CIA. She was the only female who worked the 12-hour night shift but she said that despite getting picked on, “The people that I served with were my brothers, they always had my back and they always took care of me.”

Belinda Ochoa

Ochoa said serving in the military lead her to develop a deeper pride and appreciation for her country and the people who call it home. When asked what she gained from her service she said,“Being able to say I made a difference for someone that I truly felt like I helped save lives while I was deployed, I helped the guys on the ground that were fighting in ways that I couldn’t fight, I was doing my job behind the computer screen and being able to know that I made a difference for other people.” 

Ochoa hopes to continue in her passion for helping others and will soon take advantage of the GI bill to go back to school in pursuit of a doctorate in Audiology.

Wanda Berry – United States Navy

Berthoud resident Wanda Berry joined the Navy after graduating high school and, in her own words, “miserably” failing out of her first semester at CU Denver. Her grandfather, father and uncle had all served in the Navy and although her family wasn’t thrilled with the idea, Berry had always wanted to serve and joined up in May of 1990.

Boot camp took place in Orlando, Florida, a place Berry had never before visited and where she experienced humidity like she never had before growing up in Colorado. “It was culture shock… I couldn’t breathe,” she said of her first taste of military life and of the Sunshine State.

Wanda Berry on deck of a ship while serving in the United States Navy in the 1990s.

Berry became an electronics technician and had achieved a 3rd class rank coming out of school. “We learned everything from radar to radios, repair and calibration, we learned everything and at the end of school we got our specialties,” which for Berry turned out to be equipment calibration on ships.

She was first stationed in Alameda California on the USS Samuel Gompers, a tender, she explained, which is a ship that goes out with the fleet in order to help repair ships or submarines while they are underway or in port. Berry said that when she first joined the Navy, “Females could only be on tenders – they weren’t able to serve on active ships or submarines,” a situation that changed during her 7 years of service.

Wanda Berry stands with her “Golden Shellback” certificate.

A notable experience for Berry during her travels around the globe with the Navy was receiving her “Golden Shellback” a ritual that dates back at least 400 years in Western seafaring. The ceremony and award honors a sailor crossing not only the equator but crossing at the 180th meridian on the international dateline.

“It was a great time, it was a good time in my life…they are family” she said while reflecting on the camaraderie she experienced among her shipmates while serving in the Navy.

Today Berry works as a nursing assistant in Berthoud where she lives with her husband and son.

Ellen Allen – Army National Guard

Berthoud resident Ellen Allen served in the Army National Guard after it was suggested to her by a co-worker who was also a Captain in the Minnesota Army National Guard. Allen joined in 1977 one year before women and men were integrated into the Army. She served 9 years total in the communications battalion 47th infantry.

Allen was a single parent with two young daughters at the time when she joined and having the ability to serve her country while holding down a full-time job and drilling one weekend a month was a perfect fit.

Ellen Allen while serving in the Army National Guard during the 1970s.

Her experiences as a woman in the National Guard in the early years were vastly different from her later years. “They were not ready for us when they allowed us to come in, the biggest difference was we had to have a place to stay with the company so we felt like part of the company not separate,” she commented when talking about the separate building the women had to stay away from the men, where at times, they were forgotten about and not picked up to get to their jobs.

Working in an administrative role afforded her the opportunity to help the complicated logistics of a large battalion to run smoothly and be prepared to be called up at any time. After taking a six year hiatus after moving to Iowa she came back to serve in Minnesota through the early 90s during both Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Her company was not called up but they were prepared to go.

Ellen Allen

Allen said her time in the Guard enabled her to take on leadership roles in the work place which included time with the U.S. Postal Service and now taking on something totally new as the owner of Berthoud Wine and Spirits she runs with her husband, “It gives me the self-assurance that I have the ability to take things on and succeed to feel confidence in yourself as a person.”

Ochoa, Berry, and Allen are proud to have served their country, and rightfully so. When asked if her military experience changed the way she views the United States Ochoa said, “I think my military experience personally really showed me how small this country is, how small the world is – it’s pretty amazing how humanity comes together when we have to.”

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