Face of Defense: Soldier, Student, Trailblazer


Army Spc. Arshia Gill is one of the many new female soldiers stepping into combat military occupational specialties previously closed to women.

Spc. Arshia Gill, Alpha Company, 898 Brigade Engineer Battalion, 81st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, prepares a door for a breaching exercise on a demolitions range at the Yakima Training Center, June 12, 2018.  Alpha Company is conducting their annual training at YTC.
Army Spc. Arshia Gill, an engineer with the Washington Army National Guard’s Alpha Company, 898th Brigade Engineer Battalion, prepares a door for a breaching exercise on a demolitions range at the Yakima Training Center, Wash., June 12, 2018. The company was conducting their annual training. Washington Army National Guard photo by Sgt. David Carnahan
Spc. Arshia Gill, Alpha Company, 898 Brigade Engineer Battalion, 81st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, prepares a door for a breaching exercise on a demolitions range at the Yakima Training Center, June 12, 2018.  Alpha Company is conducting their annual training at YTC.
Guard Soldier balances the many things that make her unique
Army Spc. Arshia Gill, an engineer with the Washington Army National Guard’s Alpha Company, 898th Brigade Engineer Battalion, prepares a door for a breaching exercise on a demolitions range at the Yakima Training Center, Wash., June 12, 2018. The company was conducting their annual training. Washington Army National Guard photo by Sgt. David Carnahan

But, for Gill, she's more than just a trailblazer -- she's an engineer, a student and a soldier all wrapped into one. Gill is a combat engineer with the Washington Army National Guard’s Alpha Company, 898th Brigade Engineer Battalion.

"If I had an opportunity to do this all over again, even though it's really difficult managing it, I definitely would; it's a cool experience," Gill said.

"She's always the first one wanting to learn and go do something," said Sgt. Jason Longmire, with Alpha Company, 898th Brigade Engineer Battalion. "We were doing urban breaching [training] yesterday and she was right there, right next to the door, maybe five or 10 feet away holding the blast blanket so that no one got hurt."

Gill's company commander, Capt. Brandon Buehler, describes her as a warrior and a true combat engineer. Combat engineers are expected to be able to build structures, operate explosives and do the appropriate mathematics to ensure that both are done correctly.

Double Life

When she's not at drill, Gill is a full-time student at the University of Puget Sound. The two lifestyles are night and day. Her school's trim and manicured campus is a world away from the hot and dusty field training at the Yakima Training Center at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, and she said transitioning back and forth can be challenging.

"If I have a weekend off, I usually visit home and my family," she said. "That usually puts me back on my feet if I'm having a tough time."

Family is a big motivator for Gill.

"Most of the men in my family have served in different armies around the world, and I am the first in my generation, and also the first female [soldier] in my family."

In January 2016, the Defense Department opened all military occupational specialties to women.

"I was a little scared after basic because drill sergeants try to freak you out about being one of the first women in a combat MOS that just opened up," Gill said. "[I heard] a lot about being able to carry your own weight, and I pride myself in being able to do that."

She said she was nervous about arriving in her first unit, but that concern went away when she got to know her new teammates.

"I honestly feel blessed to be in this unit," Gill said. "I'm just really happy that I got placed with some of the men that are in this unit because they're very respectful and the transition was very easy. I didn't feel like there were any bumps in the road or anything like that."