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Women Show Their 'Army Strength' In ROTC

Sept. 13, 2011
SHSU Media Contact: Jennifer Gauntt

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Army strong: (from left) 2nd Lt. Joan Kim, sophomore Hailey Wyant, senior Janie Salazar, and junior Meghan Purcell excel as women in SHSU's Army ROTC Bearkat Battalion.  —Photos by Brian Blalock


On Sept. 11, 2001, SHSU alumna 2nd Lt. Hollian Woods was in the eighth grade.

“I remember I was in my science class and the principal came over the intercom and said there’s been a national emergency, to turn the TV to this channel. So the teacher put it on,” she said. “We didn’t understand. We didn’t know what was going on, but in the following weeks it kind of sunk in.”

For Woods Sept. 11 was a defining moment. Though she has a family history of military service, that day created what she calls a “want” to serve.

“At first it was mostly revenge, I was kind of fired up. Even though I was in the eighth grade, I knew right from wrong and I wanted to do something about it,” she said. “My family’s very patriotic, and I knew when the time came if I had the opportunity I was going to pursue some kind of service.”

Woods graduated from high school in 2006 and upon the advice of her dad decided to check out SHSU’s ROTC program.

“My dad went to this school, he was a kicker on the football team, and he said they had a great ROTC program, so whenever we came to visit the campus, I talked to the recruiting officer at the time, Maj. (Christopher) Wooten, and I loved it,” she said.

While women comprise about 14 percent of active Army service, according to the U.S. Army website, Woods and other females like her make up almost 25 percent of SHSU’s ROTC program, said Lt. Col. David Yebra, chair of the military science department.

Though they may be the minority, however, women in SHSU’s Bearkat Battalion consistently turn out strong performances, he said.

“Some of our highest-performing cadets, who have received national-level recognition, have been female,” Yebra said. “The year before I got here was Lt. Emily Miller, and she was recognized as one of the top two females in the entire country. And then recent graduate Joan Kim was ranked 41 out of 5,400 senior cadets in the national order of merit.

“Generally speaking, they’re just part of the population of good future officers,” Yebra said, adding that that includes both his male and female cadets. “It just so happens that many of our female cadets distinguished themselves.”

Like with Woods, a family history of military service and patriotism play a big part in the reason why many SHSU students decide to join ROTC.

But it’s also about opportunity. Sophomore Hailey Wyant said her decision to join ROTC was influenced by receiving the national scholarship, which includes full tuition and a book stipend, and a monthly living stipend that accompanies it.

“I don’t think I’d be here—I’d be at my little community college—if it wasn’t for that,” said Wyant, whose father is now in the Navy reserves after a career of active duty. “My parents weren’t in the financial position to send me to school because my dad’s company went bankrupt last summer, so there was no way (they could help me).”

Likewise, senior Janie Salazar and Kim said as children of immigrants, the Army will provide them with opportunities their parents never had.

Kim, whose parents are from Korea, joined the Texas National Guard when she was 17 and decided to come to SHSU after her unit deployed to Iraq. Her father served a mandatory two years in the military in Korea before they immigrated to the U.S. She said she’s the first in her family to join the military in America.

“Both of my parents came here from Mexico. They came to this country to better their lives, and they’ve worked so hard all their lives,” Salazar said. “It’s ridiculous, the long hours just to make sure we had everything they dreamed of.

“My dad always taught me to have high aspirations, and I just feel like the military will provide that for me,” she said. “It would give me a chance to show my family the appreciation for what they have done for me.”

All five women said being the minority in the military was never a deterrent for them.

While the parents of many gave mixed reactions when they told them they were going to join the Army, all have been extremely supportive.

Junior Meghan Purcell said enlisting was never a question for her, with a family tradition of service that dates back to World War I.

“I initially wanted to enlist but my dad wanted me to go to college first,” she said. “I joined ROTC and ended up falling in love with it.”

Salazar said her mother was initially against her joining the Army because she “didn’t think females belonged in the military,” but her father was very supportive, understanding that her desire to join was centered around the financial stability it would afford her.

Kim, who said her parents were happy she joined because she wouldn’t have to deploy to Iraq, said her situation was the opposite of Salazar’s.

“My dad was kind of hesitant, but my mom was actually really excited,” said Kim, who commissioned as a second lieutenant in May and is now stationed in South Korea. “I’m just like my mom; she’s like a tomboy, so she told me she’d always wanted to do that and was excited about it. My dad was a little scared.

“I think because of the military paying my tuition and the ROTC giving us stipends every month, my parents are pushing my brother to join,” Kim said. “He’s actually my older brother and he’s trying to go to college but he doesn’t have the money to do it. They’re pushing him to join, too, because they’re seeing how much I benefitted from it.”

These opportunities go beyond just the education benefits they receive. When cadets graduate, they are commissioned as second lieutenants in the U.S. Army.

“I knew I wanted to be in the military, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go to school. My brother (who is in the Marine Corps) told me the benefits of being an officer instead of an NCO (a non-commissioned officer, who enlists as a private and is promoted through the ranks), because my brother is an NCO,” Salazar said. “The pay is better as an officer. You have more doors open to you in the military as an officer. It’s a smarter way to go in my opinion.”

Some plan on spending their career with the military; others see it as a means to an end, to get enough education and training to begin a civilian career.

Woods entered the workforce as a platoon leader the Army National Guard’s 536th Brigade Support Battalion. Though she lives and works in Dallas, she travels to Houston one weekend a month and two weeks a year as part of her reserve duties.

After earning her second lieutenant commission, Kim entered the military intelligence field; Wyant’s goals include getting her law degree and joining the Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) Corps or possibly flying Apache helicopters as an Army aviator; Salazar hopes to join the signal corps, which is in charge of the Army’s communications systems.

A psychology major, Purcell said she hopes to spend her career in the military while she pursues her doctorate in the field and would like to specialize in post-traumatic stress disorder.

“I think my dad might have suffered from it, but we’re not sure because he never liked to talk about it,” she said. “When they come back, they’re definitely different.

“When my cousin came back from his third deployment in Iraq, he had a really hard time re-adjusting and his wife made him go to a psychologist,” she said. “At first he thought it was stupid and hated it, but eventually she started helping him and he started talking and he’s doing a lot better.”

To achieve these goals, all have taken active roles by either participating in the more “elite” Ranger Company, which requires additional training and extracurricular work; or serving in leadership roles within their respective units (SHSU’s ROTC is divided into two companies: Sapper and Ranger).

Last fall, Kim served as a cadet commander and Salazar served as first sergeant (or second in command), together leading teams of approximately 40-50 each. Woods also served as cadet commander for her company when she was at SHSU.

This semester, Salazar is a company commander in large part due to her performance at the Leader Development and Assessment Course (LDAC) in Fort Lewis, Wash., where she was one of two, out of a total of 21 cadets who attended from SHSU, to receive an “excellent” performance review, according to Yebra.

Even aside from their leadership positions, Kim and others call ROTC a “full-time job.” They work out as part of their physical training at 6 a.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, in addition to training as part of their company, with things like rifle team, cannon crew or color guard, and extracurricular activities the ROTC participates in, such as support for SHSU athletics events and other community activities.

“You definitely have to be dedicated,” Salazar said. “You have to be mentally and physically strong to do it.”

2nd Lt. Hollian Woods currently serves in the Army National Guard’s 536th Brigade Support Battalion out of Houston.

As a current Army leader, Woods says she doesn’t think being a woman should deter someone from joining the military.

“Now it’s more common and accepted that a woman serves in the military. I did feel like there were going to be times where I wasn’t going to be as strong or as fast as a man would, and I always hated the fact that I couldn’t serve in the infantry,” she said. “There was some hesitation in that I was worried about not being at the top of my class, because I want to be the best at everything, but the guys that were in my ROTC class were very helpful; we were like a team, it was like I was one of the guys.”

Though Wyant said there was only one other girl in her squad last year, she received no disrespect from the guys.

“At first I had to prove myself, that I could handle things on my own, carry my own 40-pound ruck sack,” she said. “I think you have to earn their respect, but guys have to prove themselves too.”

Both Salazar and Kim agree.

“Not only are we minorities as females but we’re minorities as in our nationalities. I definitely feel like I have to prove a lot to a lot of people,” Kim said. “I’m in charge of guys who are a lot bigger, stronger, but if you show them you can hang with them, they’ll respect you more. They respect you a lot more if you do well at PT.”

Yebra said the need to prove themselves is an “internal drive that creates a very positive momentum, especially when it comes to doing very well.”

When asked what the best thing about being in ROTC is, the resounding message from amongst the five was learning the time-management and leadership skills, the confidence they acquire, and the friendships they have made.

“We hung out all the time. We kind of grew up together in ROTC,” Woods said. “We all started as freshmen together and then moved our way up until commissioning. They are some of the best friends I’ve ever had.”

“ROTC has definitely made me stronger, boosted my self-esteem,” Purcell said. “It’s made me have a lot more love for the country and respect for those who are overseas and the solders who are giving their lives.”


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