FORT MEADE, Md. – For Lt. Col. Christina Perronie, Maj. Michele Spangler, Capt. Anabel Montano-Vargas, Capt. Katie Kerr and Capt. Vanessa Rodriguez, 2020 proved exceptionally memorable. These women, all assigned to the Fairfax-based 124th Cyber Protection Battalion, 91st Cyber Brigade, not only mobilized, but also comprised the first known all-female staff within the Virginia Army National Guard, as well as Task Force Echo.
Task Force Echo is a federal cyber mission under the operational control of the 780th Military Intelligence Brigade that enables cyberspace operations in support of U.S. Cyber Command. The 124th CBP, commanded by Lt. Col. John Truax, assumed authority of Task Force Echo IV in January 2020.
Perronie served as the battalion and TFE executive officer, Spangler served as the operations officer, Montano-Vargas served as the administrative officer, Kerr served as the intelligence and systems officer, and Rodriguez served as the logistics officer.
In the Army, where females make up only 17% of the entire force, it is rare for the primary staff officers of a unit to consist entirely of women.
“I think we only noticed the makeup of the staff because of the disproportionate male-to-female ratio in the military in general,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Timothy Hawley, the senior enlisted leader of the 124th CPB and TFE IV.
Prior to transferring to the 124th, Perronie was an aviation officer, a military specialty where about 10% of the personnel are female.
When asked what this occasion meant to her she said, “I thought it was a really big deal. Being an [aviation] officer, I was used to being one of four or five females in an entire [battalion], so having an all-female staff was very exciting for me.”
Kerr echoed a similar sentiment.
“It is always a great honor to be associated with a positive historic first and I’m very grateful to have been a part of it,” she said.
Despite COVID-19 restrictions impacting operational schedules, working conditions and personal well-being, Task Force Echo Soldiers and staff successfully completed a 15-month mobilization and returned home in early 2021.
Even with the constant changes and restrictions Perronie said the year went very smoothly, not because the staff was female, but because they cared about doing a good job.
“Their number one priority was taking care of the Soldiers,” she said. “Amazing work by an incredible staff and amazing human beings inside and out.”
Hawley commented similarly when reflecting on his time with the staff.
“Lt. Col. Truax and I could not have asked for a better staff. I am looking forward to watching these great officers grow and make the Virginia National Guard better,” Hawley said.
The U.S. Army has made strides toward inclusivity and diversity. In 2020, the Army announced the launch of Project Inclusion, a five-year strategic plan designed to enact programs to promote diversity, equity and inclusion.
Even with Project Inclusion underway, women will remain a minority in the Army for years to come making the 124th’s all-female staff an uncommon event for the near future.
Kerr offered advice for future women in leadership roles saying, “I recognize my experience is certainly not universal and there will be many instances when women face adversity in male-dominated positions. When this happens, it's imperative to not get discouraged for too long, explore constructive ways to resolve the situation, and most importantly to keep succeeding in spite of the adversity.”
March is Women’s History Month and this month the Virginia National Guard is taking time to tell the stories of the women who serve as Soldiers, Airmen, VDF members and civilians in our organization.