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Bradley commander is 1st Cav's first female 'Top Gun'

Jul. 10, 2014 - 09:48PM   |  
Maj. Chrissy Cook is the first woman in the 1st Cavalry Division to qualify on a Bradley Fighting Vehicle, scoring 'Top Gun' in the qualification course with her crew.
Maj. Chrissy Cook is the first woman in the 1st Cavalry Division to qualify on a Bradley Fighting Vehicle, scoring 'Top Gun' in the qualification course with her crew. (Spc. Brandon Banzhaf/Army)
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Cook (Spc. Brandon Banzhaf/Army)

Maj. Chrissy Cook is the first woman in the 1st Cavalry Division to qualify to command a M2A2 Bradley Fighting Vehicle.

Cook practiced mornings, weekends and holidays for five months with her Bradley crew, and she had a secret weapon. At home, her 8-year-old son James rehearsed call-and-response tank command drills with her as her gunner.

As a mom and dual-military spouse, it was important to include him in her mission, she said.

“By saying this is how you’re making mommy good at her job, it helps explain why mommy’s in the field for two to three weeks,” said Cook, 38, of Fort Hood, Texas. “When someone asks why your mom can’t be here, he can say, ‘My mom’s out making history.’ ”

Cook, the operations and training officer (S-3) for the 3rd Engineer Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, scored “Top Gun” in the qualification course with her crew — a first for the 1st Cavalry. It’s all the more impressive because the crew were Bradley novices at the start.

“It wasn’t me, it was my crew ... and I had an awesome crew,” Cook said of making Top Gun. “When you have a good run, it makes all those weekends and holidays you missed worth it. We trained so hard and now we’re qualified to do what the Army asked us to do.”

Cook does not believe she is the first female soldier to earn her qual on a Bradley. Her position was among those the Army recently opened to women, said Army spokesperson Paul Prince. The Army continues to incrementally add women to the ranks of jobs once closed to female soldiers.

In a June 17 directive, Army Secretary John McHugh opened an additional 33,000 jobs to women to include numerous jobs with infantry battalion headquarters. However, some jobs remain closed — at least for now. Closed military occupational specialties continue to exist in engineer, field artillery, infantry, armor and special operations units.

Cook encouraged any woman who wants to break ground to find a mentor to help guide them, and to go for it, as long as they can meet the Army’s standards for the job.

“No one will say anything, as long as you meet the standard,” she said. “Understand that you have the exact same standard and nobody’s going to make it easier for you just because your gender’s different.”

A dual-military spouse, Cook works hard to balance and incorporate what she calls her home family and Army family. She advises other women to have strong networks to help; she has her mom and two babysitters.

The qualification course was full of tough tasks for a soldier of any gender, including loading, disassembling and reassembling a 25mm cannon, and a series of live night engagements.

In the qualification course, the crew’s Bradley broke down, had comms problems and its targeting was off. Ultimately, the challenges early on prepared them for the toughest lane.

She said soldiers made friendly wagers based on her gender, that her small hands would make it easier for her to load ammo into a narrow chute, or that her upper body strength would make it harder to handle the 25 mm cannon.

Cook shrugged off the idea that her gender could give her any advantage or disadvantage over a male soldier.

“I have the same issues as you,” she said.

And while she struggled at times, she ultimately excelled.

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