Virginia National Guard welcomes first female infantry company commander

Capt. Candice Bowen becomes the first female officer to take command of a Virginia National Guard infantry company July 18, 2020, in Woodstock, Virginia. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. 1st Class Terra C. Gatti)

WOODSTOCK, Va. — During a small, socially-distanced ceremony, Capt. Candice Bowen became the Virginia National Guard’s first female infantry company commander when she took command of Bravo Company, 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team from Capt. Timothy England July 18, 2020, in Woodstock, Virginia. 

“It feels a bit surreal,” Bowen said. “But honestly, I’m just ready to take charge of the company and lead my Soldiers.” 

Bowen’s ascent into the company command position is just another in a series of firsts. Last February, she became the Virginia National Guard’s first female infantry officer after graduating from the U.S. Army’s Infantry Basic Officer Leader Course at Fort Benning, Georgia. She is also the first maneuver company commander within the 29th Infantry Division, which is comprised of brigades and battalions spread across seven states. 

Capt. Candice Bowen renders a salute during the National Anthem before becoming the first female officer to take command of a Virginia National Guard infantry company July 18, 2020, in Woodstock, Virginia. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. 1st Class Terra C. Gatti)

“The 29th has six brigades, and out of all of that, we have not had a female maneuver commander in the division,” said Maj. Gen. John M. Epperly, commander of the 29th ID. He said he expects more firsts in Bowen’s future as her career progresses and said she’s one of just a few female infantry commanders in the entire U.S. Army. “It’s not just the Guard, it’s the Army at large. There just haven’t been a lot of female infantry company commanders in the Army, much less the Guard and Reserve, and we want to get to the place where this is commonplace.” 

A self-proclaimed military brat, Bowen started her military career as a military police officer. She deployed with the 3-116th to Qatar in 2015 and later earned a Combat Action Badge in Afghanistan before attending IBOLC and becoming an infantry officer. At her change of command of ceremony, leaders described her as a competent, problem-solving leader.

“Capt. Bowen has impressed everybody who has been in touch with her,” said Col. Joseph DiNonno, commander of the 116th IBCT. “Today marks a special moment in the Virginia Army National Guard history as we welcome the first female infantry company commander, a selection based on merit with no special treatment, and an officer who has demonstrated the absolute ability to lead Soldiers in close combat. I take special pride in seeing this change of command and knowing what we celebrate as a first today will be commonplace tomorrow.”

Bowen said she recognizes the historical significance of the change of command and that she’s honored by the opportunity to lead the Soldiers of Bravo Company. 

“I am truly humbled to be a part of such a remarkable group of Soldiers,” Bowen said. 

When asked who helped her along her journey to this point, Bowen said God played a significant role in getting her through the challenging moments – and there were, indeed, challenging moments – as well as her family and the many of the leaders who showed their support during her change of command ceremony. Her father, retired Sgt. Maj. Robert Bowen, has been present for many of the important moments in her military career and was there to watch her take command as well. 

“Today was historical, not only for my daughter, but for our family, for the military,” said Sgt. Maj. Bowen. When his daughter earned her commission, he was there to render her first salute. “When your child achieves it is more than you could ever ask for in life, so to see her achieve today, and I know she has great mentorship, she has great leadership here and I just can’t wait to see where it goes from here.” 

With COVID-19 creating an ever-changing atmosphere for leaders to navigate, Bowen takes command just as her company begins a significantly altered annual training period, according to DiNonno, who said he asked Bowen how she felt about taking command during such a challenging time. 

“You didn’t hesitate, you were fired up about it,” DiNonno said of Bowen’s response. “It reminded me that anything in life worth having is hard. This will be a difficult assignment, and you own this company now and everything is does or fails to do, but it will be one of the best experiences of your career.” 

As Bowen moves into her new role as company commander, the Virginia National Guard is actively recruiting other female Soldiers interested in serving in infantry positions. 

 “If other females are on the fence about joining, do it,” Bowen said. “Jump in there, and just do it. If you’re giving it everything you’ve got, putting your Soldiers before yourself, you’ll love it and it will be best thing you’ve ever done.”

Capt. Candice Bowen, the first female officer to take command of a Virginia National Guard infantry company, poses with senior leaders July 18, 2020, in Woodstock, Virginia following her change of command ceremony. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. 1st Class Terra C. Gatti)

More on this story: