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College ROTC graduates pursue military service

| Friday, May 19, 2017

Three Saint Mary’s seniors will carry on the College’s legacy for service, as their participation in Notre Dame’s Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) will enable them to join the military after graduation.

Despite being the Army battalion commander and receiving a senior award from the ROTC program, biology major Emilie Vanneste said the most rewarding part of her life is yet to come.

“I think when I commission, it’s going to feel like I’m done with one small chapter, and the rest of my Army career is going to start,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to be in the service. “

Navy midshipman first-class and nursing major Abigail Waller said ROTC is helping her achieve her goals.

“I don’t think I’ll start accomplishing things until I get out and start helping people,” she said. “[ROTC] is like a stepping stone.”

Air Force wing commander and computing and applied mathematics major Megan O’Bryan recently received the Commander’s leadership award. O’Bryan said she credits her success to being a student at Saint Mary’s.

“Coming here, I was pretty shy,” O’Bryan said. “I can now say I’ve done a complete 180. I’ve learned how to be a leader and how to be the best that I can be to help others and my peers.”

According to Vanneste, these women have spent 20-25 hours training each week for the past four academic years. She said training entails participating in lab, class and physical challenges.

Waller said managing her time was one of the biggest difficulties of participating in ROTC.

“It’s an interesting dichotomy, always trying to schedule classes with clinical,” she said. “It got easier once I had a car. My first year, I was riding my bike in the snow over to Notre Dame at 5 [a.m.]”

O’Bryan, who is also a member of the Notre Dame marching band, said it was difficult to manage the ROTC time commitment while trying to be an average college student, so she had to switch her major.

“It’s hard to make time socially,” she said. “At first, I was trying to do the engineering program, but it was too many credits. I recommend picking your battles and going from there.”

Vanneste said the time commitment helped her to increase her level of self-discipline and has helped all of the cadets grow closer together.

“You have to be up, you have to be at certain things at certain times and keep the GPA up,” she said. “One of the biggest challenges is prioritizing who you want to be as a college student with who you want to be as a cadet. You have a lot of camaraderie there.”

However, O’Bryan said Saint Mary’s accommodated her busy schedule.

“A lot of people are really supportive,” she said. “People have been really flexible, especially when they know my ROTC schedule is super chaotic.”

Waller said ROTC has also helped her to develop skills she can use beyond the Navy.

“I think, on a personal note, it has really helped me develop my professionalism and leadership,” she said. “It’s given me a way to be a part of something that’s much bigger than myself. I wouldn’t know college without [ROTC].”

All three women said they are unsure of how long they will serve, but each will begin by serving for four years.

Waller will move to Virginia Beach, Virginia, to work in Portsmouth Hospital when she is deployed. When she is done with service, she said she would like to return to school to become a nurse practitioner.

O’Bryan will go to the Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, where she will work as a personnel officer, helping to provide others with the resources they need. After serving, she said she hopes to enter the graphic design industry.

Vanneste will begin her service at Fort Gordon in Georgia but then will transfer to a Basic Officer Leader Course (BOLC) in Germany. Upon her leave, she hopes to teach elementary education and possibly return to school to earn a master’s degree, she said.

O’Bryan said she is looking forward to being commissioned.

“Part of the reason I joined was to see the world, and I’ve always really enjoyed helping other people,” she said. “I always knew I wanted to serve my country or just help people. This seemed like the best way to do it.”

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