RICHMOND, Va. –
After 22 weeks of intense training at Fort Benning, Georgia, Pfc. Noor Habr became the first woman in the Virginia Army National Guard to earn the 19D Cavalry Scout military occupational specialty, or MOS.
Habr, an Arab American and native of Virginia Beach, decided to join the National Guard after a recruiter visited her school in 2021. As a senior at Bayside High School, she was trying to figure out what her next step would be after graduation.
“I had no money saved up for college and at the time, I hadn’t applied to any schools,” Habr said. She liked the idea of using the education benefits available to National Guard Soldiers, but she wanted a little bit of a break before jumping back into the classroom. “I thought to myself, ‘I don’t need to do school right now.’ I wanted a break and thought joining the National Guard would be the best option before I considered furthering my education.”
Military service runs in Habr’s family. Both her uncle and grandfather served in the U.S. Marine Corps, while her father served in the Lebanese Armed Forces as a sniper. In talking about career options with her recruiter, she liked the idea of becoming a 19D because it sounded similar to the type of work her father did during his own time in the military.
“When I talked to my dad about joining, he was cool about it," she said. Her mother was a little more cautious. She had a lot of questions, Habr said, but after they talked about it, about what Habr’s military service would be like, her concerns started to fade.
“My mom is super inspiring and loves empowering women, so she was proud of the choices I had made and supported me all the way,” Habr said.
While she had the support of her immediate family, Habr still dealt with some naysayers.
“Other people would tell me 'You can’t do that, it's super, super, tough,'” she said, explaining that she was undeterred by their negativity. “It hyped me up even more to accomplish the [19D] school.”
After enlisting into the National Guard and before attending basic and advanced training, Habr was part of the Recruit Sustainment Program, or RSP. The goal of the RSP is to prepare new Soldiers for the physical and mental challenges that await them as they begin their military careers, as well as ensuring they’re ready to go administratively.
For nearly eight months, Habr attended drill one weekend a month, learned the basics of military service, like how to properly wear a uniform, how the military rank structure works and what physical fitness training is like in the Army National Guard, all while earning a monthly paycheck. Even though she was active in team sports during high school, Habr continued to build her physical fitness by meeting up with other recruits for ruck marches and other fitness endeavors.
Habr said the training she received during her time in the RSP helped her succeed when she got to Fort Benning, especially with land navigation.
“I didn’t struggle on anything, “she said. “It all just came naturally.”
Once she got to Fort Benning, she felt ahead of her peers and knew that her recruiters and RSP cadre had set her up for success.
“I knew what I was coming in for,” she said. “Everyone in the office laid everything down on the table and told me exactly what to expect. Nothing was a surprise or shock.”
In training, she was one of many women working to earn the 19D MOS.
“Our troop was the first to have so many females,” Habr explained. “Usually, most troops have 10 to 12, but we had around 62 females.”
Her training wasn’t always easy and she experienced some negativity from her peers who struggled to train alongside female Soldiers. Just like before, she took their negativity and turned it into motivation, becoming more and more determined to succeed.
Back in Virginia Beach, her recruiting team was also providing motivation. Throughout her training process, they regularly sent mail and words of encouragement.
“It was a good feeling to get mail and know they cared,” Habr said. "Each recruiter from the office added their own personal section to the letters."
While at Fort Benning, weapons training was a highlight for Habr, who said she was most excited to fire the M2 .50 caliber machine gun.
“It's my favorite weapon system at the moment and it's also one of my dad’s favorites,” she said. “So far, it’s one of the coolest things I have fired in my life.”
Ultimately, Habr thinks of her training experience as much as a mental challenge as a physical one.
"It’s like the “Soldiers Creed,” when talking about being mentally tough,” she said. “That’s the most important thing. You can build up your physical aspect, but it’s your mental state you have at your prime, or others will try to break you down.”
Now that she's home, Habr plans to continue work at her family's restaurant while assisting her recruiters in area high schools. She also plans to pursue a degree in criminal justice.
"I have my sights set on attending Old Dominion University," Habr said. "And taking advantage of all the educational benefits the Virginia Army National Guard offers.”