Maj. Batina Brooks Church, 36, first took her place in history as the first female cadet to graduate from Salem College, an all-women’s school in North Carolina.
At the end of Church’s freshman year, Salem College partnered with Wake Forest University and Winston-Salem State to start a Reserve Officers’ Training Corps.
“I don’t know what it was in that announcement, but it was a light bulb that went off in my head,” Church said about her calling to sign up.
When she first entered college, Church said she planned to go to law school.
“I had no intentions of joining the Army; I wanted to be a lawyer,” she said.
At the time, Church said she was surprised by the reaction of some students and professors at Salem College who weren’t happy about the school opening the program. The college was started in 1772 by a Protestant group.
“It was a very liberal college,” she said.
Although Church said there were mixed feelings and reactions on campus, she was never treated differently, even while wearing her uniform on campus during drill days.
The pressure to succeed came from within, she said, with her competitive spirit and innate ability to adapt.
“I didn’t feel like I could fail. I had to complete this program,” Church said.
Being a woman in the ROTC program came with physical challenges, but her time in high school on track and cross country teams was great preparation, she said.
“I was just very fortunate I had a running background and didn’t have to get past that hurdle,” Church said.
Leading the way
From the beginning, Church said her male instructors warned she would be judged based on appearance and physical fitness.
Church said she felt the pressure of being a strong woman without losing her femininity.
“Predominantly, the Army is still a man’s world,” Church said.
Despite knowing she would be breaking barriers, Church said she knew from the beginning that she wanted to be a commander.
“There is always that debate whether a leader is born or a leader is made,” Church said.
Her first commission was as a military police officer in charge of 30 soldiers.
Church’s husband, Chris Church, is also a major in the Army, where he is serves as a military police officer, supplying law enforcement to 90,000 people, both soldiers and civilians, at Fort Bragg in North Carolina.
Chris Church said his current commander is a woman, and for 13 years he has consistently served alongside female soldiers in military law enforcement without any concerns.
“Some parts of the Army that are not fully integrated yet maybe do not have the same view,” he said.
Chris Church said his position in law enforcement is a “natural progression” for personnel moving up the military ranks. He said the couple will be stationed out of Fort Bragg until summer 2015, at which time he hopes they will move to Washington, D.C., to work “behind the scenes” in general staff work and research.
The goal is for the Army couple to stay in the service for at least 20 years, Batina Church said.
“If the Army continues to keep us and promote us, we will stay longer,” she said.
Taking care of fellow soldiers
Three months after getting married, the Churches were both deployed to Iraq in the same battalion for 15 months from 2006 to 2008.
“We were there for the surge,” Batina Church said.
It was her husband’s third deployment and her first. Chris Church has been stateside since 2008.
Although the couple has not deployed at the same time since, Batina Church has been serving out of Kandahar, Afghanistan, since October. She is scheduled to return home in June.
As a human resources officer, Batina Church performs administrative duties to take care of awards, evaluations, pay issues and school requirements, as well as working with Belgian and Australian NATO forces or National Guard and Army Reserve units.
“It is not a sexy job,” Batina Church said. “It is about helping soldiers take care of aspects of their lives, so they can do their job.”
Even though Batina Church said she is not in the field working on convoys or clearing buildings, her department would be responsible for any reporting of mass casualties at her base.
During a hectic and chaotic scene, the human resources team must report the type of causalities and the status of each person injured.
“We just maintain accountability,” she said.
Maintaining order in a catastrophe is something Batina Church has been trained to handle, including her duties in the U.S. Northern Command’s Hurricane Sandy Response, where she helped coordinate delivery of fuel and supplies, as well as tracking personnel.
Former ‘Army brat’ raises a military family
Batina Church’s father, Robert Brooks, served in the U.S. Army until he retired in 1990 as a sergeant first class.
Although she was born in Texas, Batina Church said her family constantly moved around until coming to Cobb County.
“I am an Army brat, but I claim Marietta as my home,” she said.
In fact, moving to Cobb was the first time she attended a public school that was not part of a military base.
“It was a culture shock for me … but, you know, I adapted,” Batina Church said.
Although her father died in 2008, Batina Church’s mother and sisters still live in Cobb and have been supportive of her military career.
Batina Church said her husband’s extended family lives in West Virginia has also provided great reassurance by temporarily taking care of their two children, Gavin, 5, and Isabella, 3.
Chris Church, whose typical workday is from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m., said his hours outside of the job normally revolve around his family.
“With them gone, you almost don’t know what to do with yourself,” Chris Church said.
The couple is able to talk to each other every day over the phone, from Chris Church’s office in North Carolina to Batina Church’s desk in Afghanistan.
Each weekend, Batina Church uses Facetime, a video conversation app over a cellphone, to see her children.
This is Batina Church’s first deployment since having children. Before shipping out, she shared general information with her son about having to leave the family to travel for work.
“Sometimes he got so upset and said, ‘No, Mommy, you are not a solider,’ because he did not want me to leave,” Batina Church said.
Now, her son asks during their phone conversations if she is still in Afghanistan. But, Batina Church thinks the separation is harder on her and her husband.
“Kids are resilient,” Batina Church said.
As a mother, Batina Church said she is struck harder by feelings of guilt.
“I am not saying that fathers don’t have an important place in their child’s life,” Batina Church said, but mothers have a bond by carrying the children and giving birth.
Batina Church said she has connected with her fellow female soldiers, sharing stories about missing birthdays and holidays.
“The females in my unit are very close,” Batina Church said.