Cranston West 2015 graduate Carla Gutierrez has never been afraid to take risks.
During her time at West, Gutierrez enjoyed time competing in and winning beauty pageants. Her other passion? Playing varsity football for the Falcons.
Two years after graduating, Gutierrez decided to take on another challenge: Become the first female infantry to join the army’s 10th mountain division.
After 16 weeks of grueling training, she did just that, and is now a SAW gunner, 11 Bravo Infantryman and is stationed in Louisiana. She was the first woman to ever achieve this title in the army, was the first woman in this infantry, and is the first Rhode Island woman to achieve the feat as well.
“I decided to join the military two years after graduating high school. I saw it as a challenge, there are restrictions between males and females in the army, but I found out that they were now allowing women in the infantry, so I decided to take that challenge and see what I could do,” said Gutierrez.
Despite having a larger number of women attempting to join the ranks, very few have made it since, and Gutierrez is proud to be one of them.
“It was pretty sweet. We were 72 females when we started and only five of us have since graduated. A lot of us ended up leaving after a while, some of us got medically discharged, different things happened. Having women in the infantry is still very new, they don’t want to separate us, I had to do everything that the men had to do to graduate, every part of it. It was very difficult, but it was emotional after 16 weeks of working hard,” said Gutierrez.
It was tough sledding in basic training, which included early morning exercise, verbal onslaughts by superiors, strict schedules, etc.
“The yelling, the waking up at 3 a.m. every morning to go run, the 5-mile runs every Monday and Thursday under 40 minutes, the rucking with 75 pounds on your back for 22 miles, it’s nonstop. The food, you ate what you were told, you weren’t allowed to go to your room to relax unless you were told that you could do that, being away from my family, it was a culture shock,” said Gutierrez.
Now, as an official member of the infantry, Gutierrez is excited to etch her name in history and wants to serve as an example to women everywhere. She encourages other women to take on the challenge of joining the military and to have confidence in themselves.
“My advice to women would be: Remember that your body can handle a lot more than you think it can. If you think it’s the last step that you can take, I promise you, there's one more that you can take after that. Basic training is meant to break you, you’re supposed to hear the words that you’re awful, you’re this, you’re that, it’s a mind game because your brain has to be able to take that pain physically and emotionally. But at the end of the day, basic training ends at some point, it’s just temporary, it’s not the real army until you get there and then it’s what you make it,” said Gutierrez, who also urges women to explore all facets of the military, beyond just positions of combat.
“There’s so much more than being a soldier. You can be a chef, you can be an infantryman like myself, you can be an engineer, a doctor. People expect that you have to be the person carrying around the weapons saving lives, but there’s so much more than that.”
Once Gutierrez completes her military career, she plans on returning to Rhode Island. She has other goals in mind long term, including opening her own restaurant.
One person that will be ready to welcome her back with open arms is West principal Thomas Barbieri, who has been close with her since their time together at Bain.
Barbieri is thrilled to see his former student serving the country and breaking barriers.
“I am not surprised at all. Carla is a very strong person, and she is the definition of what it means to be a Falcon,” said Barbieri. “She represents very well the core values and beliefs of the high school. She took different opportunities that put her in this place right now. She’s one of those kids that, when they find their niche, when they find what they’re passionate about, they go with it. Carla did exactly that. I’m so humbled and proud that she’s serving our country. She has made us very proud.”