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American Woman

March 23, 2022

Kyle Wade, Editor in Chief


 

It’s so weird, at the time, you’re just living your life and going where your passion takes you. I had no idea that I was breaking ground for women,” Teri Berryman said as she opened up a photo album.

Berryman and her dog, Cocoa. Kyle Wade


According to First Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Joint Chiefs of Staff (SEAC1) Joe Gainey, to his knowledge Berryman could have been one of the first women Jump Masters.


Berryman, whose father was a Korean War veteran, joined the United States Army in February of 1980 and spent her first three years as a Topographic Surveyor with the 82nd Engineer Company in Fort Belvoir located in Virginia from 1980-83.


Berryman described it as a “fabulous place to be”, she was near Washington D.C. so she had the opportunity to visit America’s capital. She had made some friends along the way too, she flipped the page in her photo album, “This is Renee,Vernell and Steve and Ukie, we were all like roommates in a pod.”

During Berryman’s time at Belvoir, her unit wasn’t actively mapmaking because there were no serious conflicts at the time. Berryman found herself mowing grass and picking up cigarette butts more often than fulfilling the job she had enlisted for. She recalls watching war movies with her cousins as a child and thinking, “oh my goodness, those are the most incredible human beings who can go do these things. I always imagined it would be such a challenging, world-changing experience and I’m out here mowing lawns.”

The opportunity presented itself to do more than base beautification, one day her unit announced an opportunity to volunteer as a lifeguard. Against the advice of her father, “do not ever volunteer for anything”, Berryman took the opportunity. She recalls pondering if there was a catch as she volunteered, “it’s gotta be better than mowing lawns, right?”As a child, she had taken swim lessons and was confident she could pass the two-week American Red Cross Lifeguard Certification Course, and she did.


During her time as a lifeguard, Berryman took the opportunity to focus on her physical fitness, “I was in such good shape.” She said that along with a swimming routine, she was also running and weight training at the gym in her freetime.


Lifeguard duty would present Berryman with her first encounter with the 82nd Airborne when they did a jump at Belvoir, “I was like ‘wow’, I mean they were strapped! Ya know? Cutting-edge, sharp, motivated- everyone of them had that fired up attitude, they were on fire. They were alive compared to the zombieville I was living in.”


Berryman had come across one of the Airborne soldiers and he invited her out to watch a jump. “I went out there and watched them jump and it just lit my soul on fire. I said, ‘wow that’s what I want to do.’” Berryman says that she will always recall this as a “life changing moment” and at this moment her motivation shifted to becoming a soldier of the 82nd Airborne Division located at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

Through a friend of a friend, Berryman found an opportunity to visit Fort Bragg, “I said, ‘Hey, I’m going on post and I’m gonna talk to these guys.” Berryman found 82nd Airborne Headquarters and walked in with the intent of finding out how to become an Airborne soldier.


The answer she found, “Well, you can’t”, Berryman said.


“I said, ‘What do you mean, why can’t I?’” Berryman recalls asking the soldier, “he said, ‘Well, you’re a female.’”


She had done thorough research and read through all of the regulations and knew that this answer was incorrect. “So I told him that I wasn’t aware of any regulation prohibiting women,” Berryman said.


According to Berryman, that soldier quickly pointed out a regulation that had potential to end her dream as soon as it started. Since she was technically an engineer, if she was a soldier assigned to 82nd Airborne, her unit could experience combat. During this era in the Army, there were regulations prohibiting females from combat roles. According to the Army.mil, in 2016, these regulations were lifted.

Berryman was not going to let this put out the proverbial flame she said had ignited within her soul, “Well, I said, ‘I can change my MOS (military occupational specialty)’ and then I said,’Well, what do you need?’”


Nearing her reenlistment, Berryman decided to perform a lateral move (change her Army MOS) to Administrative Assistant. This move would be dependent on unit approval, requiring her to pass her new MOS school and achieve a passing score on the specialized Airborne Physical Fitness Test. The test includes a timed, two-mile run that follows two-minutes of maximum repetitions of push-ups, sit-ups and pullups. Failure to meet the Airborne’s expectations in each respective category could terminate Berryman’s chance of joining the 82nd.


Berryman would meet the Army Airborne standard on her fitness test and would be approved for her reenlistment and lateral move. “So I packed up my stuff and headed to Fort Ben Harrison, Indiana to train as an Executive Administrative Assistant,” Berryman said. She describes the school as challenging, noting that it had focuses on English, grammar, proofreading, stenography, protocols for formal events and was training to be “basically a General’s secretary.” Berryman would graduate at the top of her class.

”So I got through that and then I went to Benning for Airborne training,” Berryman flips to a page in her album, “I don't know if you’ve ever been to Benning? Well, you walk on post and you know that this is the place that makes or breaks some of the best and it was very intimidating.” She describes arriving at the Airborne Training Unit, Fort Benning, Georgia, where they had three “huge” barracks buildings and a mess hall across a field from three 250 foot towers. “They pull you up in a parachute and click and release as a part of your training. So you’re standing here looking at all this and there’s groups of troops everywhere, running, singing cadence and they’re running in their combat boots, we ran (physical training) in tennis shoes,” Berryman said.