1st Lt. Jessica Pauley

Jessica Pauley is the first female infantry officer in Idaho Army National Guard history.

All 1st Lt. Jessica Pauley can do is wait.

Pauley did her part.

The Meridian resident became the first female infantry officer in Idaho Army National Guard history in summer 2019 to open the door for women and now anxiously awaits their entrance.

The U.S. Army’s “leader-first” initiative allows a combat unit to accept junior-enlisted female soldiers only after the unit has a woman in a leadership role.

After Pauley stepped into that unfilled role, there has yet to be a female junior-enlisted soldier in Idaho’s only infantry company.

“I’m on pins and needles,” Pauley said. “I’m excited. I’m hoping a female comes along pretty soon. … She’s out there somewhere.”

Pauley did not know about the “leader-first” initiative until 2018, when she heard of a woman not being able to join the Idaho infantry company as a junior-enlisted soldier.

The U.S. Army opened combat roles to women in 2015 and implemented its “leader-first” approach, requiring that a combat unit have a female branch-qualified or noncommissioned officer before accepting junior-enlisted female soldiers.

“It got me to thinking about all the ways that I could make a difference,” Pauley said. “I guess they just needed a body, a female body in that (officer) role. Then, why not? Why not try to do it.”

The 28-year-old said someone was eventually going to fill that position.

But she did.

“Idaho has a lot of really amazing leadership that really, really wants and supports the integration of females into all branches and it was just a matter of time before there were a couple females who were willing to do it and wanted to do it,” Pauley said. “I just happened to be one and I credit a lot of that to the amazing females I’ve seen in the military. They’re so strong and they paved the way for me to do what I do.”

The 2010 Kuna High School graduate initially had no thoughts of going into the infantry, though she enlisted in the Idaho National Guard in 2014.

She was in Boise State University’s ROTC program and graduated with a degree in media arts in 2018 and enjoyed being a Idaho National Guard public affairs specialist from 2014-2018.

But after doing the training, the Meridian-resident is now assigned to Idaho Army National Guard’s C Company, 2nd Battalion of the 116th Cavalry Regiment as a platoon leader and performs gun training and everything required of an infantry member in addition to her leadership responsibilities.

“It’s a support system and we rely on each other and we spend holidays together and we do all of these things that a family does,” said Pauley, who grew up in Texas before moving to Idaho in middle school. “We take care of one another and nobody that I’ve met in the National Guard has ever told me that I couldn’t do something and in fact a lot of people have said we need someone to do this. You should do it. And then I said OK.”

It is no surprise military service is in her blood. Her father was in the U.S. Air Force, her brother is in the Navy and her grandfather was in the Army during World War II.

“To be the first officer in the family too was a big deal for me. Yeah, there’s a lot of public service in my family. They take it really seriously,” Pauley said. “All my cousins were afraid of my dad because he was the strict uncle. He kept a military household for sure and I think that’s why my brother and I gravitated toward the military as an option instead of doing something else.”

Military, like everything else, seemed possible to her when she was a kid. It didn’t matter she was a girl.

That’s why she called it “shocking” when she learned women were not allowed to be junior-enlisted soldiers in the infantry in the Idaho Army National Guard due to “leader-first” policy.

Her fight for her gender continues every day that she is an infantry officer, looking to provide no one reason to believe that ladies cannot do her job while aiming to exceed standards — instead of just meeting them.

“If that’s what it takes to get junior-enlisted females to see that they’re capable of doing this exact thing and they sign up and take that chance, then the Army will be better for it,” Pauley said. “We need a diverse body of soldiers in order to accomplish a mission, to train the best we can.”