The IRS Intranet Spotlight section featured Army veteran Cathy Leonard as part of the IRS observance of Women's History Month. The following, which appeared in the March 15, 2013, Spotlight, is a reprint of the interview with Cathy. Cathy is a member of Military Outreach for Service.
“Enlisting at the age of 19, I expected to be assigned to a hospital since those were the only positions available for women,” Cathy recalls. “In 1973, I attended boot camp at Fort McClellan, Ala. I remember that they even provided a class on using make-up so the women in the Army would look good.” But good looks were certainly not all Cathy had to offer. She overcame preconceptions and biases about women in the military and became a flight medic, something unheard of at the time.
“In 1974, I was assigned to Fort Benning, and I had to fly a mission with the 498th Medevac Company (Medical Evacuation). My First Sergeant was firmly told ‘no women’ were allowed on the flight team, but he brought me on anyway.
“I met a substantial amount of resistance from the guys in the unit; most had just returned from Vietnam. They were concerned that I would not be able to lift the litter (rescue basket) into the helicopter. They wondered how I would react to attending traumatic injuries. Where would I sleep or go to the bathroom? I couldn’t wear perfume because the guys didn’t want to smell like a girl. The logistics were resolved and, soon afterward, a female crew chief and a female pilot came on, so there were three women.
“Being the first female flight medic was kept very low profile. There were a couple of articles in the local newspaper, but the military kept the information real low profile due to the focus on Vietnam and the issue of women’s role in the military. For instance, it was strictly forbidden for women to be photographed holding a gun.
“I still remember one pilot's words (about me): ‘She's a notch above the average medic we get, and she's proven her ability in the field many times over.’ They also said I was quiet, intelligent and efficient. I proved that I could do the job, and it turned out to be a great experience.”
After the military, Cathy worked in the private sector, including as a research assistant at a major U.S. chemical company, the only woman holding that position with the company at the time. In 1991, she joined the IRS as a GS-7 revenue agent and rose through the ranks to become a senior operations advisor.
Cathy remains dedicated to helping others, especially veterans, often serving as a mentor for leadership development and intern programs. She participated in the IRS Warrior Intern Program, serving as a mentor for a wounded veteran.
“In the Warrior Intern Program, the IRS provided internship opportunities to wounded and ill warriors. Their injuries were varied, but the stories they told were all gripping. I learned a lot from these warriors about challenges and overcoming adversity. In my current position, I lead numerous teams relating to LB&I operations. One of my favorite roles has been as training manager and mentor for new managers. My love for mentoring and coaching began in the Army and continues to this day as a mentor for the Aspiring Frontline Manager program.”