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Stephanie Pedersen: Female soldiers pave the way for more barriers to be broken

When I found out a few weeks ago I was going to start writing a column again, I knew exactly what my first one would be about and the types of future columns I wanted to write.

I used to write sports columns at the L-E but have been in charge of running the news desk for a few years now. I know what stories touch people, and usually I’m aware of my emotions.

I didn’t know what was ahead of me.

Women’s rights, body issues, equality, motherhood, and so many more issues are stories I want to tackle in this space.

But women earning their Ranger tab affected me more than I could have imagined.

We have so many more barriers as women to break down in our society. But I don’t feel like my generation has done much to further the movement.

What have we done to break down those barriers?

That changed Monday when the U.S. Army announced 1st Lt. Shaye Haver and Capt. Kristen Griest earned the Ranger tab. We’ve been covering this story for years, and senior reporter Chuck Williams has been reporting on it nearly every week for the last four months.

But Monday night I was overcome with emotion at the news. I wondered if my editor could hear it in my voice that night through every phone conversation we had about the story.

It was monumental, and it rocked me to the core because those women were brave enough to be the first. Those women showed the world what we’re capable of accomplishing.

I say “we” because these women are 25 and 26 years old. If their heads weren’t shaved, they wouldn’t stand out on the side of a busy street. They’re normal women doing extraordinary things.

They are the type of role models I want my daughter to have.

I guess what I’m saying is that I’m grateful that these women paved the way for others. We need to raise strong, open-minded women who don’t see boundaries and don’t back down from a challenge. They won’t all earn a Ranger tab, not very men will either. And that’s OK.

These women weren’t intimidated, and now we’ll remember them forever for their mental and physical strength when so much of the world told us we were too weak or had to be nearly masculine to achieve the feat.

To steal a line from Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg: “Trailblazers matter: these women may be the first, but they won’t be the last.”

And that’s the message we need to continue to push.

There are of course people who disagree with the Army’s decision, and you’re entitled to that opinion. But these women trained with hundreds of men, and to assume the standards must have been changed is nothing short of misogynistic.

These two women have changed the course of military history whether you agree with it or not.

That’s one barrier that’s been broken. Now let’s get to work on a few others.

Contact Stephanie Pedersen, senior editor, at spedersen@ledger-enquirer.com or follow her on Twitter at @stephdpedersen.

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