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Gunslingers welcome first female commander

Captain hopes her story inspires other women

5th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

Published: 03:11PM August 23rd, 2012
Gunslingers welcome first female commander

Staff Sgt. Antwaun J. Parrish

Captain Christina Payne, HHB, 1-377 FA, 17th Fires Brigade, talks to a Soldier during training Aug. 14 at JBLM. Payne is the first female battery commander assigned to the Gunslinger Battalion.

Growing up playing sports and being a part of the rowing team at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Capt. Christina Payne always enjoyed being a team player. But just being another team member in the Army wasn’t in the cards.

“When I was in my captain’s career course, I was told I didn’t have to pay attention (to leadership classes) because females only work staff positions,” Payne said. “It’s great to see the statement wasn’t true and females are being provided more opportunities.”

Payne is the first female commander of Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 1st Battalion, 377th Field Artillery Regiment, the “Gunslingers,” 17th Fires Brigade. She earned her command position through hard work and a Department of Defense policy released May 14 that opened 14,000 combat-related jobs to women.

“I don’t look at it as a gender position,” Payne said. “ I look at it as a job that the Army needed to fill and anyone could fill it.”

As a cadet in UNC’s Reserve Officer Training Corps program, she saw in the military an avenue to a stable career.

“I was 21 years old when I joined and I needed the guidance and structure the military provides,” Payne said. She was commissioned and began her career in 2006 as a fire direction officer at Fort Sill, Okla. She deployed twice to Kuwait as a training officer, working closely with U.S. Central Command’s J3 training and exercises staff.

Now a seven-year veteran, Payne said she thinks of herself as part of new generation of female Soldiers, but the unit has made her feel like a member of the team in the traditional sense. Since taking command a month ago, she feels she is positioned to make a significant impact on her battery.

“Since she got here the morale has (gone) up and she has brought more life to the unit,” Spc. Chance Whittaker, unit training NCO said. “Across the board everyone has enjoyed having her as a commander.”

Working closely with his new commander in planning and executing the battery training schedule, Whittaker is impressed by the way that she asserts herself with confidence in a traditionally male-dominated environment.

He respect’s Payne’s job proficiencies, but is more impressed by her sincere appreciation for Soldiers.

“She’s easy to talk to and respectful to everyone,” he said, creating an environment of mutual respect.

Payne’s senior enlisted adviser, 20-year veteran 1st Sgt. Wallace Doss, welcomes the policy change and his new boss.

“I never thought I would see the day,” Wallace said. He said he had the opportunity to work with a woman in his last assignment he called a “hard charger,” who helped him change his attitude toward women in Army leadership roles.

Payne looks forward to a long Army career, but works to not look too far ahead and focus on the job at hand. “I look forward to more opportunities and I’m ready to take full advantage of them,” Payne said.

Doss and Payne arrived at the unit about the same time. The first sergeant said his expectations of a commander are always high.

“I was expecting someone high-speed,” Wallace said. “She’s defiantly leading the way. The Army has a keeper.”

By making her mark on HHB as its first female commander, she hopes she is paving the way for future female leaders in the Army.

“It’s neat to see the progression the Army is making and to know that there are more opportunities to come for females younger than me.”