Sunday, December 21, 2008

College Life

A Few Good Women
By Mark Galarrita

Automatic assault rifles, strict discipline, physical training at 6 a.m. and nail polish. These are some of the things that reveal a changing U.S. military today.

The reserve officer training core program allows students in college to participate in the American military lifestyle in order to become officers one day. ROTC, as cadets call it, is a program where students balance their responsibilities in school and the military.

ROTC traces its roots to the late 1700s and today, the program has recently expanded to include both women and minority students. A woman leading in the Army is not something unheard of now. But until 1973, women were not allowed in the ROTC.

Cadet Major Sarah Vandy is a cadet of the Fordham University battalion, Bravo Company, who is only one semester from becoming a second-lieutenant in the U.S. Army. When asked why she wants to serve, she says she doesn’t do it for the pay or for any personal gain, but for the excitement. “I wanted to get experience,” Vandy, 30, says. “I first wanted to serve a short time, but I ended up liking the army. I like the camaraderie and the challenge. You learn a lot about yourself in the service,” she says

Vandy says she wanted the experience and
camaraderie that military service offered.

Vandy wasn’t just a cadet; she enlisted in the Army out of high school, and at age 18she was a Humvee mechanic stationed in Germany for four years. Fifteen months of which she spent in Iraq with her company repairing vehicles on base, running on her own and watching out for surprise mortar attacks.

“People in the civilian world have this general assumption that once you’re deployed to Iraq all you do is fight,” she says. “For some units that may be true, especially combat jobs. But mainly, your duty depends your job type and the type of unit you are assigned to.” As a shop foreman, Vandy’s mechanical skills were mainly used on base and while some mechanical soldier’s were sent outside the wire attached to Military Police platoons. Outside of the base, those soldiers were sent to the frontlines to repair vehicles, although many were stationed on base.

Vandy applied and completed airborne school where her physical and mental limits were pushed to the edge. She received her associate’s degree at a community college through the service and is now a business student at New York University.

Her commitment to the army reflects those around her. She has gained the respect of everyone in the Fordham University battalion. “I love her, she really inspired me to do better and to be better,” says Jessica Davis, 19, a student and cadet of the Fordham University battalion, Bravo Company. “She inspired me to do better on my physical training score because there aren’t a lot of girls who try to compete on the same level as guys. I wanted to show that I can help set the bar for not only female cadets but male cadets as well.”

Davis says she is inspired by Vandy’s

Davis is just one cadet that has been inspired by Vandy. The young mechanic has created a steady work environment in the battalion that breaches gender gaps. She helped raise a company that demands the best from each other, whether male or female.

Francis Cagulada, 20, a student at John Jay College and a third year cadet said Vandy was simply ‘bad ass.’ “She’s more hardcore than most of the guys in the program. She’s 30 and she runs faster than a majority of the cadets.”

Cagulada says Vandy outperforms many
cadets in the program.

Although Vandy remains an inspiring soldier to many of the cadets, she doesn’t imagine herself being part of the military her entire life. She plans to retire in 10 years from the National Guard and go into business consulting or working in management firms.

The reason she still remains committed to the army is because of the personal pride she gets from it. “I could have gone to officer candidate school or the ROTC but it didn’t really matter to me. I just wanted to be either a first sergeant or a company commander,” Vandy says. “ At either one of these jobs I would be in charge of over 150 people, a job where I would be responsible for motivating and developing these soldiers to serve the country. It’s what I had my sights on as I stayed in the military.”

Vandy spent 15 months in Iraq with her company repairing vehicles.

There are others like cadet Vandy who also imagine a career as an officer in the Army, and how they achieve that goal and their own personal reasons are different. She’s just trying to make a living.

When asked if men treated her like a lesser person or made it any easier on her because she was a woman, she laughs softly and replies with a steady no.

“I was always working with men, you just had to get comfortable with that. Most men would be shy or cautious around me. It wasn’t until I started to break out of my own shell that we all started to work together as a company. That’s what I like about the army, everyone has this one goal to get the job done,” Vandy said.

By the time Vandy graduates next spring of 2009 she will be working as an engineering officer and attempting to reach her goal of company commander. The commitment isn’t something to think about lightly, it’s a four to eight year commitment to the military. A student graduates to become a second lieutenant and a guaranteed, full-time job in the U. S. military.

For Vandy it’s a service obligation she’s willing to take.

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