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The expanding role of GI Jane

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"Everyone was like, 'Yeah, get them'' and I was having trouble with that really aggressive attitude," she recalls. "People were saying, 'Yeah, let's go level that whole area.' And I was saying, 'There's no reason to go level 50 homes' - it just wasn't necessary."

Indeed, in a break between missions on the route to Baghdad, Fritts said that while she's proud to be one of only two women pilots with the 3-7th Cavalry, her life on the front lines has been distinctly different from that of the men around her.

"There are some things that set me apart," says the West Point graduate from Portland, Ore.

The granddaughter of a World War II B-17 pilot, Fritts has wanted to fly helicopters since she was a freshman in high school. After West Point, she attended flight school, where less than 10 percent of her classmates were women. Now, she proudly wears the Cavalry's signature black Stetson with gold tassels that she keeps behind the seat of her Kiowa, nicknamed "Drunken Monkey."

Male colleagues treat her with respect, she says, even though she knows some of them disagree with policies allowing women to serve in military jobs traditionally reserved for men. "The guys are very professional, so they put aside their personal feelings," she says.

But Fritts has realized that as the lone woman, she will not enjoy the kind of lifelong bonds forged in combat by the men in her platoon. "A lot of the guys get their best buddies from within the troop, so they can really let go and be themselves. But my best friends are women, and they aren't here, so the guys won't really know me the same way," she says.

Practical problems in western Iraq's flat terrain, such as finding a spot to change clothes or go to the bathroom, also separate Fritts from the men. So does a disinclination to join in with the men's lewd banter and crude jokes.

As an officer, Fritts has had to make a conscious effort to change the language she uses with her male subordinates - eliminating niceties. "Guys are more direct. Instead of asking them to do things, I have to tell them, without saying 'Please' or 'Thanks.' That's what they expect."

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