Utah's Army National Guard marked a first in naming Capt. Milada Copeland as the first female commander of its 1457th Engineer Battalion Headquarters Company.
The American Fork-based battalion's mission is to build combat roads and trails to speed the movement of infantry, tanks and other combat vehicles."We've had females in administrative areas before, but we've never had a commander in a combat battalion before," said battalion commander Lt. Col. Richard Linton.
Technically, the battalion command is still a male-only position. But an active-duty Army command given to a woman at Fort Lewis, Wash., was similar enough to the role of the commander in 1457th headquarters company that the precedent allowed the Guard to move Copeland, 31, into the job.
"I didn't want a traditional command," Copeland said, noting that most of the Guard's women officers are found in medical, administration or linguist areas. "What's out of the ordinary is that this is a combat unit that has just recently been opened to women."
Having the command "is really a great honor, and it is a lot of responsibility. It shows to me that the senior officers that picked me for this position have trust in my capabilities."
Copeland was commissioned as an officer through the Utah State University ROTC program in 1988. She also holds a bachelor's in biology from USU and a masters of business administration from the University of Utah. "The one thing that ROTC trains a future officer for is how to be a platoon leader and further how to be a company commander," she said. "Having the opportunity to take a command is what my career has been leading up to."
Copeland said she felt neither an advantage or disadvantage compared to her male counterparts in being named to the command. "It does show a definite trend. There is a greater acceptance of women in traditionally male combat roles."
Another opportunity Copeland hopes she will have is a chance to mentor other women considering military careers. "You look at the things a woman normally learns growing up, going through school, and there really is not a lot of leadership training involved," she said. "There are not any women in the unit yet, but I hope there will be more."
Copeland's command is traditional in that it is a part-time assignment. But she also holds a full-time position in the Guard's state headquarters in Draper as the Utah Army National Guard state mobilization planner.