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NEWS | March 23, 2021

Alaska Army National Guard infantrywoman makes history

By Edward Eagerton Alaska National Guard Public Affairs

JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska – On the cusp of Women’s History Month, one Alaska Army National Guard Soldier made her own mark in history last month by becoming the first infantry woman in the Alaska National Guard.

Sgt. Serita Unin, now a fireteam leader with Bison Company, 1st Battalion, 297th Infantry Regiment, Alaska Army National Guard, is a Cup’ik Eskimo from the Kashunamiut Tribe who grew up in Bethel. She joined the Guard in 2009, six years before former President Barack Obama lifted the ban on women serving in combat units. At the time of her enlistment, combat arms jobs were not open to women.

“I came in as a generator mechanic and did that job for about 10 years,” said Unin. “Initially I didn’t want to go infantry. My commander at the time asked me if I wanted to switch jobs, and at first, I didn’t want to.”

Despite her hesitation, she explained, her leadership thought she was right for the job.

“A couple of drills later,” she continued, “I got a call from my squad leader asking if I wanted to go infantry, and I thought, ‘I don’t know,’ then I went to drill, and my unit told me I was going 11 Charlie (infantry mortarman), and I got to thinking, ‘It wouldn’t be a bad idea.’”

Unin said she knew it was going to be physically and mentally demanding, but she was in the habit of working out twice a day. Physical fitness was ingrained in her routine, and though soft-spoken and thoughtful, her reflections on life and the importance of mental and physical health reveal a woman with a strong constitution. Clearly, her former leadership saw the same when they volunteered her.

She was already thinking about changing her job at the time because she was in a position that maxed out at the rank of E-4 or specialist and she was looking for upward mobility. When the opportunity presented itself, she rose to the challenge.

“I transferred over to Bison Company in October 2019 and waited to attend the infantry reclassification class since then,” she said.

In January, Unin attended a three-week infantry reclassification course in Arkansas and graduated last month as the Alaska National Guard’s first female infantry Soldier.

“At first, it was amazing ... but then I realized that this was bigger than myself. I realized that me being an infantry NCO will give other females a chance to become infantry if they wanted.”

Though the ban on women serving in combat roles was lifted in 2015, it would take another two years for women to begin filtering into these units. At first, to recruit women directly into combat arms military occupational specialties, a female infantry officer and female infantry noncommissioned officer must have been trained and established in the gaining unit to have females in the chain of command.

However, by 2020, this directive had changed to require only one of the two. With Unin now a qualified infantry NCO, the process to allow recruiters to enlist infantry women into the Alaska Army National Guard is moving forward, with recruiting command submitting the qualifications to the National Guard Bureau to open up these enlistment opportunities to women.

Despite the historical elements of Unin’s journey, she looked at the bigger picture.

“It is awesome being a part of something historical,” she said, “not just about me, it’s about the whole unit, it’s about all females that want to go infantry, and it’s about the battalion itself.”

Unin said her most important role is being a good leader.

“I have three Soldiers under me in my fire team,” she said. “For me, being an NCO, it’s about taking care of the Soldiers and making sure they have everything they need to be successful, not only as a team member but also in the civilian world.

For Unin, the infantry became like a second family, a sentiment common among people who serve in combat arms. She enjoys the unity and family-oriented nature of the unit.

“Being infantry in an infantry unit, people take care of each other,” she said. “It’s one big melting pot of amazing people who love infantry.”

When asked what she would tell other women looking to challenge themselves to serve in combat arms positions, her response was clear.

“Do it,” she said. “You only live once. The standards are physically demanding, but if that’s what you really want to do, all you have to do is work hard, work out, be mentally fit, and just go for it.”