Kansas’ first 18-year-old female infantryman

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Tristan Guzman never liked being told she couldn’t do something.

Her mother, Viki Row, said she’s had this positive attitude since she was a little girl.

“I would tell her when she was little, or her father would tell her, ‘You can’t do that!’ And she would go for it, just to show us she could,” Row said.

The yes I can mindset stayed with Guzman and now Allen’s 18-year-old Northern Heights graduate is the first woman from Kansas to enlist as an infantryman in the U.S. Army.

An infantry soldier, a position that was not open to women until Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s decision to lift gender-based restrictions from all military positions took effect in January 2016 , is a ground combat soldier trained in face-to-face combat and bears the brunt of war on the front lines.

Guzman, who signed her name and was sworn in May 24 at Olathe, said she knew she wanted to join the military from a young age.

“I’ve wanted to do this since I was 11,” she said. “It’s just something I wanted to do.”

A three-sport athlete in high school, Guzman said there was a period when she thought she would continue her athletic career with the Allen County Community College volleyball team instead of enlisting.

Guzman said she contacted her high school counselor for advice on what to do.

“I told her I really wanted to travel the world and get out of this area and she was like, ‘Well, what about the military?’ And I always wanted to do that,” she said.

Guzman initially spoke with the Air Force, but eventually opted for the Army and, after passing his Armed Service Vocation Aptitude Battery Examination, declared a military occupational specialty in the ‘infantry.

Guzman will also receive an airborne classification alongside his infantry MOS.

This means that after completing 10 weeks of basic training, which begins Jan. 30, 2017, at Ft. Benning, Ga., Guzman will attend another brief training session to receive his airborne status.

Transitioning from a graduating class of about 30 kids to an infantry class in the U.S. Army is daunting, Guzman said, but also exciting.

“It’s going to be a lot more crowded and I’m not going to get used to it,” she said. “I have always been in a small school. So I’m excited for the base.

Guzman, who was born in Nampa, Idaho, has lived in Kansas for 10 years, spending the last seven in Allen, a 173-acre town with a population of 177 people.

For Guzman, the decision to join the infantry had nothing to do with being the first woman in Kansas to do so or even being a woman at all.

“I’ve always been interested in special ops and infantry would bring me closer to that,” she said. “I didn’t even know I was the first to do it. They only told me after I chose my MOS and all that I was the first wife and all that.

When she heard that a colonel was coming to swear her in and photographers would be there, Guzman said she realized she had signed on for more than just a position in the military.

“I didn’t want to be in the public eye, I just wanted to be discreet. That’s how I’ve always been and now I’m in public in front of everyone,” she said.

Although Guzman prefers to stay out of the spotlight, she said it would be worth it if she could be a role model for other little girls.

“I want them to realize that if you have a dream, chase it. It can be a big dream and no one will think it could actually happen, but ultimately it can happen. I mean, look -me, it really happened for me,” she said. “And I hope little girls can see that and know that they can do whatever they want, they just have to work for it. that.”

For Row, the mother of Guzman as well as three other children and a stepson, her baby girl is already doing just that.

“We’ve always told our kids, if there’s something you want, you think about it and you do it. Never give up. Do it until you can accomplish what you want,” Row said. “And she is.”

Guzman said she knew people might doubt her, but she fed off that doubt.

“There are a lot of people telling me I can’t and I don’t really like being told what to do by people who aren’t in charge of me,” she said. “So when they tell me I can’t do something, I just do it to prove to them that I can do it. If someone tells me I can’t, it makes me want to do it even more.

Besides her own resolve, Guzman said her family, which includes members of the Navy, Army and Marines, is also supportive of her.

“They’re all very proud of me,” she said. “And my father, he always supported me in everything I wanted to do, good and bad choices. He was the one who supported me.”

Guzman said her father, Korey Neighbors, was extremely supportive and helped her prepare for the seriousness of her decision.

“I’m not scared anymore, really. My dad always said if it’s your time to die, you’re going to leave. You can’t do anything to stop it. If I have to die, at least I will be a hero for some people,” she said.

Guzman, who plans to pursue a career in the military, said the hardest part is knowing she will have to leave friends and family behind.

Row said when the day came for Guzman to take the oath, it felt surreal.

“It was just, it was a shock. We went up there and watched her take the oath and it was a very emotional moment. It’s not just my daughter – don’t get me wrong, I love all my kids and my stepson the same way – but she and I always got on well, sharing secrets with each other. She’s my best friend,” Row said. “And I’m so honored and proud to my daughter.”

Guzman said that although she will be separated from her family, she is extremely excited for what is to come.

“Her grandfather says he knows she will do great things,” Row said.

“And that’s what I hope to do,” Guzman said. “Good things.”

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