PINE CITY, Minn. (WCCO) – A Minnesota soldier is trying to pave the way for change in the military.

Specialist Ackley is a war veteran who served in Iraq with the 34th Red Bull infantry division in 2009. But a lot has changed since her return two years ago.

Specialist John Ackley is now Ashley.

She would be the first to tell you she tries to avoid gender ideals.

“I’ve tried to stay away from gender roles,” said Ashley.

As she works on her Chevy Corvair, she’s a contradiction of stereotypes.

Not every woman can repair a classic car, but not every man will go for a pink interior.

“I just kind of want to be me,” she said.

But, “being me” is still new for Ashley. For years, the world knew her as John Ackley, an Iraq war veteran with the Minnesota National Guard.

When active duty was coming to an end, John started making the transition from man to woman.

“I figured there would be boards and I would have to talk to people all the way up the chain of command. But no, they were fine with it,” she said.

After legally changing her name, Ashley also started hormone therapy.

“Everything just seems easier now,” said Ashley.

The only part of her old life still missing is her military career.

“It’s the structure, the discipline, the training, the people,” she said.

Ashley said she’s in the process of trying to re-enlist. Her story is also becoming a source of pride in the GLBT community.

“They are highly moved by her story, and yet, at the same time, respect and honor the fact that she has come so far,” said Gary Skarsten, of Braham, MN.

The decision to make a change came easily for Ashley.

“It’s really where I should have been in the first place,” said Ackley.

Time will tell if the change comes as easily for the military.

Since this is a policy issue, the Minnesota National Guard does not have any say in Ashley’s fate. Instead, it is the Army’s jurisdiction.

The Army’s medical fitness regulations state that anyone who has undergone or attempted to change their gender is unfit for enlistment because of medical reasons.

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