Why I'm Glad I Joined The Military Before College

Photo: Courtesy of Annie Guilyard
Welcome to the inaugural class of '29. We've selected 29 graduating college seniors, entering the "real" world in 2018, to write about the state of their lives. What are their hopes, dreams, fears, stressors, failures, and successes as they leave school behind? We will be releasing new entries on a daily basis. If you would like yours to be considered, please email classof29@refinery29.com.
My first trip away from home was to Fort Jackson, South Carolina, to complete Basic Combat Training for the U.S. Army. It was my first time flying in a plane and I remember looking out the window at the abundance of trees as I left my little woods town that housed everyone I ever knew. I asked God to make sure this adventure would go well. At 4’10” and 98 pounds, just a junior in high school, I didn’t look like a stereotypical soldier. Nevertheless, I set out to be one.
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There were times during basic training that I wondered what I had gotten myself into. When that happened, I thought about a quote I once heard: “If you’re not in over your head, how do you know how tall you are?” The irony of it made me laugh. I pressed on. I graduated that August, and in November, I won the national Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps Scholarship. This allowed me to afford an education and to pursue Army officership, something I wanted so badly after growing up in a military family. I decided to move to California, 3,000-plus miles away from home. Without that trip to basic training, I wouldn’t have had the confidence to up and leave everything I ever knew like I did to start another journey.
Illustrated by Paola DeLucca
My first few weeks of college, I was pretty sleepy. Eventually, I got used to waking up at 5 a.m or earlier four days a week for ROTC and homework. I memorized exactly how long it would take to run and walk from each location on campus to another so that I knew precisely when to leave and arrive on time. Admittedly, my social life was not always the spiciest, but the lessons I learned repaid me tenfold for any sacrifices made. I grew to love the sunrises and to appreciate the fact that I saw so many thanks to always being up so early. My friends and I bonded over practicing rucking, which is carrying weighted packs on our backs. Together, we grew together as soldiers, students, and peers. Learning to balance training to become military officers while being students taught us personal discipline, time management, patience and many more invaluable lessons. Every summer, I was presented opportunities that I could only have dreamed of as a kid in rural Pennsylvania. I went to Boston to study a language intensively. I spent 21 days in the field sleeping under the stars and getting extremely dirty whilst learning tactics and leadership with strangers who became friends. I worked at the headquarters for all of the military in Europe. While there, I met the most interesting people, learned about the U.S. mission abroad, and traveled to seven countries.
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That petite, nervous, 17-year-old girl who signed a contract with Uncle Sam, had no idea that she would get to travel Europe, learn about other cultures, or learn to lead soldiers. I am glad that despite not looking the part, and being uncertain about what I was getting into, I took the leap into the unknown and joined the Army. After graduation, I’ll pursue my dream of becoming a lawyer. I plan to continue to serve in my local reserve unit and hope to take at least one deployment in the future. I know that wherever the military takes me, I will continue to learn. I may sometimes be in over my head, but thankfully, I am now certain exactly how tall I am and how capable I can be.
Annie Guilyard is a senior studying political science at the University of California, Los Angeles. After graduation, she plans to take a gap year, explore a little, then go to law school.

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