Female gunner breaking boundaries

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News 12 First at Five, August 23, 2007

Martinez, GA-- Imagine sitting in a truck, holding a weapon and dealing with threats everyday. Not just that, you're the only female in your squad--responsible for protecting a group of men.

That's exactly what Specialist Jean Strickler deals with every day in Iraq.
Spc. Strickler is based out of Fort Stewart in Savannah and right now she's visiting her family in Martinez.

"I'm the lead gunner most of the time...not all of the time, but most of the time. I have to check for IED's, possible threats to the front and off to the sides."

It's no easy task for Strickler. Not just when she's in combat, but while she's trying to eat too.

"They'll say, you're a female gunner. Wow, that's crazy! That's incredible! Their first idea is, wow--that's really sexy."

Most first impressions last a lifetime; not this one.

"When it comes right down to it, most of them wouldn't want you (a woman) gunning for them," she adds.

Physical strength is vital in the Army, which has different standards for males and females. Specialist Strickler keeps up with the rest of her squad by doing what the males are expected to do.

"A male in my age group is required 42 push ups. I'm required 21. That's a pretty big difference so I just stick to the male standard, which happens to be my maximum."

It's still not enough for some.

"I'm still working on some people, and we've been around for a year now," she says.

But there are those who do respect her and her abilities.

"One of the guys, he doesn't even call me a female anymore, which is kind of annoying. I keep yelling at him for it, but it's respectful too."

Dancing the tango, tracing her family history and cooking -- those are keeping Spc. Strickler busy during her mid-tour leave. Great hobbies, but one of those sticks out the most.

"I've always wanted to learn more dancing and I think tango is the coolest!"

It's back to business in two days for Spc. Strickler. And she is anxious to get back.

"Your team becomes your family. While you may not like everyone, you know everyone so well," she says.

She's not worried about her safety, either.

"I signed up knowing I could die, so why should I worry about it? It'll happen or it won't. I hope it doesn't because that means I failed my job."

Spc. Strickler begins the second leg of her tour on Saturday. She says the situation in the Ar Ramadi Province has gotten a lot better since she was stationed there.

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