Nebraska’s National Guard celebrates 50 years of enlisted women

Published: Jan. 27, 2022 at 6:41 PM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - To everyone looking at the photo taken of Leslie Doughty, Christine Sherman Thompson, and Jodell Urbauer on Jan. 27, 1972, they likely think it’s a calm, historic moment as Nebraska Governor J. James Exon swears them into the Nebraska National Guard.

It was historic, yes, but Thompson described the day as “frenzied.”

“I barely remember being in the governor’s office with all of the TV cables and photographers. The picture makes it look like it was a calm scene, but that room was packed with flashbulbs going off, tape recorders, cameras, reporters, and all kinds of questions,” she said.

As history would have it, “women weren’t allowed into the National Guard until President Eisenhower signed Public Law No. 845 in 1956, which authorized female reserve officers of the Army and Air Force to be appointed as nurses or medical specialists,” explained Major Scott Igalsbe, the Guard’s State Public Affairs Officer.

He added, “eleven years later, Public Law No. 90-130 removed the two percent strength and rank ceiling limitations on women and allowed female officers to be assigned to units outside the medical field, but they were still restricted from combat arms units like armor, infantry, and artillery.”

For the first time, nonmedical enlisted women could join the National Guard in 1967

Now, even with Nebraska celebrating its 50th anniversary of integrating women in their National Guard, some people still find it surprising.

Anna Pongo is a Staff Sergeant who serves with the 111th Public Affairs Detachment as a photojournalist.

She laughed as she described the awesome people express when they see her out of uniform, but learn that she’s in the military.

Pongo has deployed overseas to Iraq using her graphic design and videography skills and she’s one of 772 women serving in the Nebraska National Guard. That makes 18% of their total number serving, which is 4,287.

2nd Lieutenant Annie Szczepaniak is also a part of the 18% serving as one of just two female Armor officers who handle tanks and cavalry with Nebraska’s 1-134th Cavalry Squadron.

It’s a title she takes seriously and fulfills with honor. “Being able to open doors for future females who want to do combat arms is really rewarding and I take a lot of pride in that,” she said.

Szczepaniak is a full-time officer also earning a Master’s degree in business analysis and management.

The Army National Guard is paying for her education and she encourages young women to consider this a viable career option.

Szczepaniak said her role has become a part of her life, but also allowed her to fulfill her other dreams. “Your career can take you to a lot of different places and whatever opportunity you want to pursue... the guard is going to help you do that,” she added.

Pongo echoed that, also saying the life experiences and world travel with Nebraska’s Army National Guard are life-changing and young women should be inspired, not deterred from joining!

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