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Oregon woman makes National Guard history

Swearing-in ceremonies take place all the time at the Military Entrance Processing Station in Portland, but this one was special.

Mackenzie Clarke on Wednesday became the first female combat engineer to enlist in the Army National Guard, according to the National Guard Bureau recruiting office.

Clarke, an 18-year-old from Damascus, was sworn in by herself during a private ceremony with Army Capt. Juliette Herman administering the enlistment oath.

"Normally, that room is packed 10 deep with new recruits," said Nick Choy, spokesman for the Oregon National Guard. "I think MEPS treated it special, which was appropriate. And it felt special."

Choy and three members of the Oregon Army National Guard's Recruiting & Retention Battalion attended the ceremony, during which Capt. Herman noted that Clarke was paving the way and doing her family and state proud.

"She definitely marked the gravity of the moment," Choy said of the officiating officer.

Clarke, who graduated from Clackamas High School, met qualification standards to enter the combat engineer 12B Military Occupational Specialty (MOS), one of 14 combat-specific jobs previously exclusive to males.

"We deploy engineers around the globe and have done so since 9-11," said Stephen Bomar, spokesman for the Oregon National Guard. "Although females have been in combat the entire time, this is the first combat arms position. Nobody would tell you they weren't deployed in harm's way, they just haven't done that specific job."

The 1249th Engineer Battalion of the Oregon National Guard deployed soldiers to Afghanistan in 2011 and, most recently, one of its companies returned in May from a nine-month deployment in Kuwait.

Combat engineer is the first MOS to be opened to female soldiers by Army officials, and more could follow later this year. The ban on women in combat roles was lifted by the Pentagon in January 2013.

Soldiers in MOS 12B, according to the Army, are expected to be proficient at a wide variety of tasks, including demolitions, route and mine clearing, constructing fighting positions, erecting fixed and floating bridges, and operating heavy equipment.

Clarke reportedly took the historic moment in stride, saying this about her new career path: "I wanted to do something worthwhile and interesting."

She is scheduled to attend the Recruitment Sustainment Program at Camp Rilea in Warrenton until her tentative report date at Basic Combat Training in October.