Upper Iowa’s first woman Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) grad

blaescommissioning-BOIn 1976, UIU ROTC cadet and Long Island, N.Y., native Jeanne Joachim and fellow ROTC cadets traveled with the Upper Iowa University ROTC (affiliate) unit to Fort Riley, Kansas for their senior year “Summer Camp” training event. It was one of the first instances where the U.S. Army integrated women into their training program.

“We were training right alongside the men, but the TAC (tactical) officers and everybody else didn’t really know how to handle us,” Joachim Blaes said. “It was me and about fifty or so other women from mid-western ROTC programs, and even we didn’t know what we were doing out in the field with the men.”

Even though combined weapons training for women became mandatory in June 1975 and expanded to include additional small arms weapons, the light antitank weapon (LAW), the 40mm grenade launcher, the Claymore mine, and the M60 machine gun in 1976, becoming a member of any Combat Arms branch was not something that women could even dream of at the time. There were only a few military occupation specialties (MOSs) available to women in the military – traditionally the branches women were assigned to were the Adjutant General Corps (AG), Army Medical Department (AMEDD), and Quartermaster (QM) Corps.

“We didn’t do the same physical training tests as men,” she said. “Obviously, most of us didn’t even come close to being able to do pull-ups on a bar. So, we’d get to the Camp Dining Facility (DFAC), and they’d say ‘You have to do 10 chin-ups before you can go into the Mess Hall,’ and they’d count…one…one…one, and finally they’d say, ‘Get out of the way so other people can eat!’ Then you had to drop to the side of the station and give the TAC 100 push-ups on your knees. And, so, we’d always be at the end of the chow line. The men were always first, and the women were always last.”

In the late 1970’s, the women didn’t have the same uniforms as men, either. “We had these fatigues that had hidden double buttons so you couldn’t see inside our shirts (blouse),” she said. “First you’d button on the inside, then you’d fold the flap over and you’d button up the outside of the shirt. Our pants were like a sailor’s trousers with fold-up flaps. Special pants. Special blouse.”

“There were many combined training events that we did, where our women’s uniforms got in the way. We had to run the same obstacle courses with the men, and complete a barbed wire crawl on our backs. Before doing that crawl, you had to ground your equipment and turn your blouse inside out. This was supposed to be done so the fatigue blouse buttons wouldn’t get caught on the barbed wire,” she said. “Unfortunately, the hidden buttons remained on the outside of our blouses and the TAC officer had to let us do the crawl face-down so as not to get hurt. The first experiences that women had back in the ‘70s when they were being fully integrated with men were really interesting, to say the least.”

To earn their ‘ROTC Recondo Qualification badges’, among other things, the cadets had to kill a chicken, cleanly skin it with its feathers intact, and take out the heart while it was still beating. The Troop leadership figured that since Joachim Blaes was from Upper Iowa University, she probably already knew how to kill a chicken and instead, chose a cadet that was from St. Louis to do the deed. But, that person ran around in the pen and couldn’t catch the chicken. As time was short to complete the exercise, the Officer in Charge (OIC) decided to call in someone from the rural Midwest who they were sure had a lot of experience with chickens. “We’re gonna get an expert in killing chickens! Joachim! Get in there and kill the chicken!”

“And I’m like….’But I’m from….,’” she stuttered. “’You’re from Upper Iowa! Get in there and kill the chicken!’ I got in there, and I grabbed the chicken. I knew about chickens. I was in Dr. (Lew) Churbuck’s class; I knew how to kill a chicken. I’d just never killed an adult chicken before – especially one that was old and sinewy and covered in muck.”

Joachim Blaes earned her Recondo badge that day.

Growing up in Deer Park, Long Island, Joachim Blaes had never heard of Upper Iowa University until a recruiter from the college traveled to the area looking to enroll Greco-Roman wrestlers from the Long Island area. Joachim Blaes was not a wrestler, but she was interested in majoring in mathematics and in a school that had a ROTC program where she could pay for college and get the education she needed.

The recruiter found some wrestlers during his trip, along with four math majors, including Joachim Blaes. All four of the math majors also signed up for the UIU ROTC Program; the other cadets from Long Island were Elizabeth (Liz) Santiago. Firmo (Jr) Lopez, and William (Bill) DeLauro.

After she arrived on campus, Joachim Blaes became interested in studying to become a Pathologist. She tested out of her math courses and changed her major to a double major in Biology and Chemistry.

During ROTC training, Joachim Blaes, Santiago and the other cadets studied military history and strategy, practiced Drill and Ceremony (D&C) and participated in field exercises. They even rappelled off the side of Baker-Hebron Hall as a part of the ROTC department’s Mountaineering class. Despite the fact that the Army was in the initial process of integrating women, Upper Iowa’s commanding ROTC officers, Major’s Marrott and Haley, and Senior NCO, Sergeant Major John Sinkovitz, fully included the first two women in the UIU program.

During a special training exercise at Fort McCoy, Wis., Santiago and Joachim Blaes participated in the simulated combat exercise right alongside the men. They trained in the field using old M14 rifles, flash-bangs and flares. One day the unit accidently lit Fort McCoy on fire. Joachim Blaes melted the bottom of her brand new boots trying to stomp the fire out. “I can remember Sergeant Sinkovitz yelling and screaming at me because I’d ruined my one and only pair of boots!” she said.

In December 1977, Joachim Blaes graduated Magna Cum Laude with a double major in Biology and Chemistry with a Pre-med emphasis from Upper Iowa, and was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the United States Army. Her commissioning papers, however, state that she is a member of the Women’s Army Corps (WAC). In 1978, WAC was disbanded as a branch, and women serving as WACs at the time converted their branches to whatever MOS they were working in. Since then, women in the U.S. Army have served in the same units as men, although they have only been allowed in or near combat situations since 1994.

Joachim Blaes then went on to earn a Bachelor of Science degree in Medical Technology (BSMT) from Allen Memorial Hospital School of Medical Technology (now Allen College), in Waterloo, Iowa.

While at Fort Sam Houston in Texas, Joachim Blaes was pulled from her current assignment and told she was going to interview for a medical logistics post. “I told them that I had never put in for (the position), and I didn’t want it,” she said. “And, they said, ‘Your math background is excellent. We decided this is what you’re going to do.’”

From 1980-1983, Joachim Blaes served on Active Duty as a Medical Service Corps (MSC) Health Services Material Officer with the 68th Medical Group in Ziegenberg, Germany. She entered the U.S. Army Reserve in 1983 and was stationed near Fort Benning, Ga., along with her husband at the time, who was an Infantry officer assigned to that post. As an Army Reserve officer, Joachim Blaes held Health Services Material Officer positions with the 73D Field Hospital in Columbus, Ga., 1207th U.S. Army Hospital in Tuskegee, Ala., 322nd General Hospital in Dover, N.J., and was an Individual Mobilization Augmentee (IMA) to Brook Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston during Desert Storm.

In 1991, Joachim Blaes joined the Arizona Army National Guard (AZARNG) as a full-time Title 32 General Service (GS) federal civil servant, and held progressing positions of responsibility within the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Logistics (DCSLOG/G-4), ultimately being assigned to the G-4 position in 2000. Due to her being the first AZARNG military graduate of the Army Logistics Management College (ALMC) Associate Logistics Executive Course (LEDC), she was the first Arizona Soldier to be awarded the functional area (FA) 90A skill identifier as a Multifunctional Logistician.

In 2000, Joachim Blaes earned the rank of Colonel.

Prior to her mandatory retirement in 2007, Joachim Blaes’ last military assignment was as the Army Chief of Staff for the Joint Forces Headquarters – Arizona. She is the first – and (as of yet) only woman to have held that position in the AZARNG.

Joachim Blaes furthered her education throughout the years. In 2000, Joachim Blaes graduated from the U.S. Army War College with a Master’s in Strategic Studies, and in 2008, she earned a Ph.D. in Public Administration from North Central University located in Prescott, Ariz.

Currently, Joachim Blaes is the senior State Manager and Deputy for the Construction and Facilities Management Office (CFMO) of the Arizona Army National Guard.

Leave a Reply