Womens History

Celebrating Women: Two female soldiers show their strength in U.S. Army

It's no secret that life in the military isn't easy and for women, it can come with it's own set of obstacles at times. 

Local 4 News visited the Rock Island Arsenal to talk with two women who have worked their way through the ranks of the U.S. Army. 

Back in 1996, Officer Heather Deters was a teenager in a small town.

"I wasn't doing very well in school, I was just an average student, and I knew I couldn't get into any college," she said.

And while she wasn't exactly sure what she wanted to do, she knew she wanted a change of scenery. 

"I wanted to get away," said Deters.

So when she turned 17, she enlisted in the United States Army. 

"17-year-old me thought she was going into the Army for six years and then going to get out," she said with a laugh.

Today, Deters is a decorated officer with First Army Operations and Integration, with a career that spans more than two decades. 

And as a woman, she's been part of a lot of personal and professional firsts. 

But after thinking at one time that she'd never go to college, she eventually got her degree. Today she says graduating is one of her greatest accomplishments. 

"I was the first one in my family to go to college,"she said. "I've done so many great things over my career that I'm proud of but graduating from college...graduating from Westpoint is probably the top."

Deters started out as a helicopter mechanic. So she says being one of only a few females in a room wasn't unusual, but it also wasn't always easy. 

"When I first enlisted and even when I first changed over and became an officer, it was a lot of women against women," said Deters. "Women soldiers picking each other apart."

Almost ten years after Deters enlisted, another woman, who would later become Deter's friend, joined the Army with a very similar background story. 

At 17, Sergeant Gretchen Dryer was looking to move out of her small town. 

"I knew I wanted to do something more with my life other than working at the only gas station in town," she said.

By the time Dryer enlisted in 2005, she says seeing more women was becoming more common.  

"A good portion of us were females," said Dryer. "We had our own barricks during basic training and the barricks were full."

Today Dryer is a Sergeant with First Army Human Resources.

Over the years both have watched a slow and steady shift for the better.

"You have to run faster, you have to work harder to work with the men that you work with," said Deters. "So I think it's definitely become a 'let's build each other up' rather than 'let's tear each other down.'"

Most recently, they witnessed the physical training test become gender-neutral for the first time. 

"It will give everybody a better understanding of everybody else's strengths and weaknesses," said Dryer.

Today, they say they've seen more women work their way through the ranks than ever before.   

"I noticed that my superiors are more female as I go through my ranks," said Dryer.

Giving the strength women like Dryer and Deters have had from the start, a chance to shine. 

"When I was enlisted I was a mechanic and every time I lifted my toolbox, a man would ask me if I needed help, and while that was chivalrous, it was like 'I want to be on the same level,'" said Deters. "And now we're getting there."


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