Members of the Columbia University/Barnard College community: My name is Natalie Lopez-Barnard. This piece details my experience as a Barnard student and a Fordham University Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps cadet. Army ROTC allowed me to follow a career path toward a position of leadership in a domain supporting soldiers that is as physically challenging as it is mentally. Army ROTC has also provided me with job opportunities and connections.
As a cadet, from Monday to Friday I wake up around 0500 to put on my Army Physical Training uniform and hit the subway to 59th Street, Columbus Circle. For an hour, I conduct physical training in Central Park with my cadet peers. We practice formations, get accountability of personnel, and remind others of the various tasks we need done to complete our next event. Every month, a PT test will verify my progress with the physical training.
After PT, I spend my time juggling Barnard and Columbia classes, phone calls, texts, and emails updating tasks from cadet peers as well as attempts to complete my readings, study, and go to my Columbia University Tae Kwon Do club classes. I sleep about five to six hours a night if I plan well. Every Friday, I wake up at 0400 to arrive prepared to a day of PT, classes, and labs that end at approximately 1600.
Several weekends of the semester, Fordham University’s Army ROTC conducts field training exercises that familiarize cadets with military life and officer responsibilities. From my cozy, academically stressed life at Barnard, I embark on a journey to military installations where I do not sleep because cadets led by instructors attack my position all night. My other cadet peers attempt to plan attacks and counterattacks, the elements challenge my resolve, any eating is on-the-go, and I constantly contend with the extremes of forced hydration or dehydration.
I learn basic infantry tactics, how to construct and deliver an operations order from platoon level to squad level, and the rigors of leading exhausted peers towards a goal (all the while carrying a 50-pound rucksack and an M16 rifle). My peers size me up, challenging me to push-up contests or testing my tactical or technical knowledge. I endure this in the spirit of becoming an effective, adaptable, and tenacious leader. When asked by my peers about my weekend activities, for lack of a better term, I explain it as “playing war.”
ROTC has been the vehicle for my leadership training, and it can easily consume more than 20 hours of my time a week. This program has shown me my mental and physical strengths as well as my limitations, and with this awareness, I am a more capable person. My training has instilled within me higher standards of self-discipline that motivate me to accomplish goals.
At my class graduation (I walked this past spring), Meryl Streep spoke about the public’s appreciation for today’s aggressive female leaders. Barnard College is an educational institution that prides itself on developing female leaders. As the first student cadet from Barnard to complete the Army ROTC program, I will soon be the first officer of the U.S. Army from Barnard College. Americans recognize the importance of military service to protect the freedom of our country. The value of ROTC leadership training is resulting in unprecedented increases in program participation all across the country. I’m proud to have taken the first step at Barnard and believe others will surely follow.
The author is a Barnard College senior majoring in psychology.