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Army Girl

Army GirlA sharp voice of encouragement breaks through the otherwise silent streets of campus. "Only a mile and a half to go -- let's keep up the pace!" She gasps the stinging cold air, strains her muscles, and pushes the aching out of her mind. It is 6:45 in the morning, and she's already drenched in sweat.

It may seem out of the ordinary for most of us, but for University of Dayton (UD, Dayton, OH) senior Amie Nicola, this is just part of the weekly routine. As a member of UD's Army ROTC (Reserve Officers' Training Corps) program, she participates in physical training Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 6:30 a.m. Only seven out of the 62 cadets in the ROTC program at UD are female. This puts Amie in the minority, but she feels she is treated exactly the same as the male cadets.

"Being in ROTC has been a wonderful experience all around," says Amie. "Looking back, I really can't imagine my time at UD without it. The hard work I have put in has been worth it, and I consider every minute of my time with the ROTC program well-spent."

Female cadets from other universities agree, describing ROTC as a positive and supportive atmosphere. Amy Shingledecker, a junior at Michigan State University (MSU, East Lansing, MI), is a cadet in MSU's Air Force ROTC, a program comprised only 30-40 percent by females. "When I came to MSU, I was scared out of my mind because the campus was so huge, but with ROTC, I felt as if I walked right into a family," says Amy. "The people I am surrounded by are honest and trustworthy -- great friends who would do just about anything for each other."

According to Amy, females have different requirements for their physical fitness tests than men in the program, but have the same requirements when it comes to classes, assignments, and jobs. "I never felt like I had to prove myself simply because I was a female -- working hard, doing your job, and doing it well are proof enough that you belong," she adds.

Lauren Johnican, a senior at Texas A&M University (College Station, TX) focuses on banding together with her fellow cadets based on their similarities. "The reality is, you will always be a minority in any crowd if you constantly point out the differences," she says. "I choose to recognize the fact that I am a female in a male-dominated program, but I don't let it affect me in a negative way."

Amie hasn't let being a female in ROTC affect her negatively, either. "You would think that we would be stereotyped in some way, because face it, stereotypes are everywhere," she says. "My roommates always come to me if they need to get a jar open. They view me as strong and independent because I am in ROTC. I consider that a source of pride, a positive stereotype."

Amie, Amy, and Lauren each celebrate the triumphs and obstacles they have encountered along the way. Amie is struggling to balance her hopes and plans for the future while trying to stay focused on being a leader for the younger cadets. Lauren's greatest challenge is learning how to speak up, stand out, and be in the spotlight. Amy asserts that field training during the summer between her sophomore and junior year, which every cadet must complete, has been her greatest challenge so far. "While there, I was hot, sweaty, tired, hungry, and exhausted, but when I was finished I felt a sense of pride for completing something that not everyone can complete," she explains.

ROTC programs across the country offer scholarships to cadets, lightening the burden of tuition that many college-bound high school students shoulder. Both males and females in the program graduate from college as commissioned officers. They are required to serve in the military for a specific number of years, usually four years active duty and four years inactive reserve duty. Many cadets choose to stay involved in the military, making it their career.

Though challenging at times, each girl recommends the program to anyone interested, noting the strength of character gained through the process. "Girls usually do so well in the program because it takes a certain type of girl to even have interest in ROTC," Amie says. "In my experience, female cadets are successful and bring a lot to the program." Amy suggests visiting schools with ROTC programs in order to get a feel for how the program runs. "Talk to cadets, ask every question imaginable, and attend a class to see what it's about," she advises. "Simply do your research to find out if it's right for you, and if you have interest, go for it."

Image courtesy of Texas A&M University.