(From Joint Munitions Command for Local 4 News)

When JMC’s (Joint Munitions Command) Command Sergeant Major Petra Casarez graduated from high school in 1988, her mom gave her a Finnish penny stamped 1907 and told her “you can be anything you want to be.” The year 1907 is a significant year in Finland; parliamentary elections were held in the autonomous Grand Duchy of Finland, March 1907, the first through which members were elected to the new Parliament of Finland by universal suffrage, and the first in the world in which female members were elected.

Finnish penny stamped 1907 (contributed photo.)

“All I really wanted to do was be a soldier and join the Finnish Army, but I wasn’t allowed,” said Casarez. Her father and grandfather had been soldiers, and her male peers were able to join the Finnish Army, but it wasn’t until 1995, after she left the country, that Finland’s military introduced voluntary service for women.

Instead, Casarez went on to chase her love of languages. While studying in Germany, she met her husband Tom. Together they moved to the United States, where they married in 1991.

“It was here, in the United States, I could fulfill my dream by joining the Army,” said Casarez. “My mom was right, I could be anything I wanted to be.” In 1994, she enlisted in the United States Army as a wheeled vehicle mechanic.

Casarez credits her Finland roots for building a strong foundation of hard work, dedication, and passion for learning many different languages. She credits Finnish women in history, like Tarja Kaarina Halonen, a politician who served as the 11th president of Finland, and the first woman to hold the position, for showing her “grit” in pursuing a dream.

Casarez is making history as a U.S. Army soldier. In a predominantly male field, she was the first female Command Sergeant Major for the Ordnance Corps. She served under Brig. Gen. Heidi J. Hoyle and Brig. Gen. Michelle M.T. Letcher, Fort Lee, Virginia, for two years.

“It’s not about being the first female,” said Casarez. “It’s about working hard, successfully serving the Army and its people, and moving through many varying assignments, that made me the Soldier I am today.” Casarez remembers receiving recognition from the Chief of Ordnance, Major General Robert D. Shadley early on in her career. “I have heart and soul and passion for my adopted country, and he saw that in me.”

“CSM Casarez is one of the most empathetic, genuine, and inclusive leaders that I have ever had the honor of calling a teammate. Her care of others, her ability to understand the environment, and be the voice of the Soldier, of the Family Member, and of the workforce, is absolutely inspiring,” said Brig. Gen. Letcher, current Chief of Staff, Army Futures Command.

Casarez often references a quote from General Creighton Abrams, saying people are not in the Army, people are the Army. This is reflected in her leadership style; she believes trust is critical – if you make a promise, you must keep it. She strives to be a positive role model with a “we can get through it together” attitude.

“To be good at the mission, we have to take care of people,” said Casarez. “I want people to feel like they are part of the team, I want them to feel motivated; that is where the magic happens.” Casarez still carries the 1907 Finnish penny with her to this day. It serves as a reminder of her history and her dream of becoming a soldier. “I see myself as your Command Sergeant Major, here at JMC, not just a picture on the wall.”

Brig. Gen. Gavin J. Gardner, JMC commander, who has personally served with Casarez in prior assignments, said, “CSM Casarez is the right choice for JMC, especially at this challenging time, with focus on the Army’s priority of modernizing the Organic Industrial Base and the ever-changing munitions requirements in support of the Joint Warfighter and our allied partners.”

As the senior enlisted leader at JMC, Casarez serves as an advisor to the commander, is an extension of the commander’s intent, vision, and execution of mission, and is responsible for the health, morale, and discipline of the ammunition enterprise. JMC and its 17 subordinate arsenals, depots, and ammunition plants produce, store, distribute, and demilitarize all conventional munitions for the U.S. Department of Defense. The enterprise is accountable for $64 billion of munitions and missiles.

JMC is located in the Quad Cities area on Rock Island Arsenal.

In honor of Women’s History Month, JMC honors Casarez and all the women who serve as Army soldiers, civilians, and veterans.