Captain Portia Brubaker has been a role model for many younger Soldiers and will soon mentor and educate many future Army officers.
Brubaker is the first female commander of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault).
Before she joined the Army, Brubaker first enlisting in the Army National Guard while participating in ROTC at Ball State University in 2009, combat roles were still closed to woman and she couldn’t pick infantry as an option.
Although Brubaker is still a logistics officer, she commands an infantry company and is getting to see firsthand how far women have progressed in the Army – from combat roles to fitness standards and the types of military occupational specialties they can pursue.
“No female has held this job that I’m in right now,” she said. “A lot of non-infantry captains have held this position, but you have to be selected. It’s usually a person who has already commanded before and shown they can be successful. They want somebody who had already commanded to come into an HHC because it is a beast. It’s a giant beast with 10 tentacle arms that are always going in different directions and you just have to reel it in and refocus 172 people in one direction.”
Brubaker proved her mettle as a leader by commanding Golf Forward Support Company for the battalion.
“I have 172 people on my books that I account for every day,” she said “I make sure they are trained and ready to deploy at a moment’s notice. We have three specialty platoons, the mortar platoon, the scout platoon and the medic platoon and then an entire battalion staff, so I’m able to multitask very well. We are always ensuring that the details of our training plan are up to date or trying to do unique training.”
Inspired by her father
Brubaker was just 7 months old when her father, Sgt. John E. Brubaker, a Vietnam veteran, died, but the four years he spent in the Army set her on the path of a military career. He was only 17 when he left school to volunteer to go to war.
“My entire life, basically, I have just known stories of him,” she said.
His service to the nation has always inspired Brubaker. Although he was enlisted, Brubaker chose to become an officer because she hopes to be part of even more change.
“Every enlisted Soldier that I knew, all the recruiters and everything, said that if they had a daughter, they’d want her to be an officer because you always want better for your children than yourself,” she said.
Enlisting also was a way to pay for college.
“You have to have an education to be commissioned as an officer so in case you want to get out, you have that as your safety blanket,” Brubaker said. “You have that degree to help you out in the world. And [as an officer] you get to lead Soldiers in a different aspect. You get to hopefully influence change a lot more.”
The National Guard drilling and participating in ROTC in college prepared her for the many roles she would tackle after graduating in 2012.
Witnessing women rise
Women have long supported infantry roles but seeing how they’ve progressed in recent years makes Brubaker proud.
“I feel like we’re more present,” she said. “Obviously the Army changes with societal times and society is catching up to equality for women. I think that’s great about the Army. We’ve always been equal in pay, never discriminated against for our pay or our rank. I get the same pay as my male officers and it’s always been that way.”
Brubaker sees more change on the horizon with women now taking on more leadership roles that were once closed to them.
“This is just the beginning,” she said. “Some of the first female officers that made it through Ranger school and are infantry officers are coming into the ranks of captains now, so they’re going to be company commanders of an infantry line unit and they’re going to be moving their way up into S3 operations for a maneuver battalion and then brigade executive officer of a brigade combat team. I think that’s awesome to watch.”
She’s seen change even in just the last two years.
“We got our first infantry females to the unit in 2018,” Brubaker said. “Three women lieutenants came into our unit at the same time and were the first females integrated into an infantry battalion.”
Brubaker has served in a number of roles since being commissioned as a second lieutenant into the Quartermaster Corps in 2012, including battalion medical readiness officer, platoon leader of 226th Quartermaster Company, executive officer of 24th Ordnance Company, and Battalion S-4 of the 87th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 3rd Infantry Division Sustainment Brigade, Fort Stewart, Georgia. Afghanistan National Police Logistics and Gender Integration Adviser of Train Advise Assist Command-South, Operation Resolute Support. Battalion S-1 of 626th Brigade Support Battalion, commander of both Golf Forward Support Company and Headquarters and Headquarters Company of 1-187th Inf. Regt., 3rd BCT.
During her last deployment in 2016 and 2017, she worked with women in Afghanistan, attempting to empower them the way her Army career has empowered her.
“I was specifically tasked to advise Afghan National Police on logistics, and, also because I was a female on integrating females into the police force there,” Brubaker said. “Seeing as how I’m a woman, there are cultural differences. I was able to speak directly with them.”
Contractors – mostly retired military and law enforcement – provided safety training and she in turn taught that to the women, she said.
“We would do classes on how to protect yourself,” Brubaker said. “They would come in and teach us techniques on how to protect yourself, what to look for, how to carry a weapon, those kind of things, so we could specifically teach the women.”
She heard stories there from women about the struggles they endure daily.
“It’s absolutely crazy what they go through,” Brubaker said. “We think we are struggling to progress, but you go to Afghanistan and work with those women and they’re hundreds of years behind the times it feels like. They aren’t empowered. Their power is taken from them. They are just women, they create babies and make food.”
At Fort Campbell, Brubaker and another female captain were part of a battalion mentorship group for women, Brubaker said.
“It’s so hard to want progressive standards for women if we aren’t willing to achieve them ourselves,” she said. “We don’t want to be treated any differently and we wanted to make sure other females knew that. We have generations standing on our shoulders who we have to help. All these women who came before us who put in the work and the effort, we want to carry on that legacy and we want to make sure that we do them justice going forward. We don’t want short cuts. We want the same standards.”
That’s one reason she’s happy with the new Army Combat Fitness Test that is gender neutral, Brubaker said.
“Everybody in the same MOS will have the same standards and it doesn’t differentiate between your age and gender, so it’s an even playing field,” she said. “That means we have to work harder because our bodies are not necessarily designed to do dead lifts on a regular basis. That’s something men have done just because they are different at fitness than us … it’s just things we have to work on to make sure we don’t fall behind.”