BPW Foundation's Women Misbehavin' Blog

Well behaved women never make history

Joining Forces: Women Veterans Speak Out – A Challenging Decision: Entering a Military Academy

Posted by danielleac on November 7, 2011

Read the latest article of BPW Foundation’s every-other-week Joining Forces feature that brings us the voices of women veterans telling their stories.  If you are a women veteran who would like to share your story, please contact us through our Joining Forces for Women Veterans Facebook page, or email dcorazza@bpwfoundation.org.

This week’s blog brought to us by Liz Mclean, an Air Force Academy graduate from a small town who has transitioned into the civilian world in search of fulfillment after serving on active duty for four and a half years, both stateside and abroad.

A Challenging Decision:  Entering a Military Academy

While in high-school, the unwavering goal to enter a military academy, to break away from a broken home or home town mentality meant having to be “well-rounded.” You need not just excel academically, but excel physically, also. You have your bright-eyed young female who graduates high school with a 4.5 GPA, runs circles around everyone else athletically, writes for the local paper, studies abroad in Italy, spearheads charity organizations….and doesn’t have time for the typical boy scene.

But she does it and is accepted to the Air Force Academy where she is asked to enter a whole new world of discipline and must redefine her next set of goals. While she realizes that she has in fact been accepted to college, she can’t help but wonder “What’s my next challenge or goal? Am I doing well enough?…I need more.”

An introduction to a military academy would start with your waist long blonde hair being chopped to a shaggy cut of Zach Morris; your femininity and external identity stripped away. You find yourself surrounded by 1200 driven clones (about 10% of which are women), running to class on marble strips…trying to find a way to stand-out without fashion or accessories.

Your confidence as a woman and a human being are completely broken down, to only be built back-up through the most rigorous challenges. Your definition of self is formulated by your ability to balance a full engineering class load, learn a foreign language, speak in front of varied audiences, excel in every graded physical aspect, discipline yourself to make your quarters and uniform sparkle, be tested on leadership…..and still find a way to be conspicuous. From earning your jump wings in the only existing free-fall program,  to volunteering to be the first wave of cadets to ever deploy…you strive to standout in a positive light.

Through all of this you become more professional, and you forge friendships with the few other women who share your common yet unusual ambition and level headedness. These friends will be part of only a small number of others like you will encounter in life, the type of friends that never seem to slow down, but instead, help push each other to the most extreme dimensions.  

While attending school, you also find the love of your life who sees you for who you truly are; uniform and all. Your relationship is challenged by the rules of the military institution, implemented in part because of the abysmal sexual assault scandal that has unjustly taken the institution by storm. As a woman, you feel more alienated than anything because you have to overcome the stereotype of being easily offended and pay for other peoples’ poor judgment. No doors will be closed when with members of the opposite gender, no sitting on the same horizontal surface and no showing any sign of affection whatsoever. Through all of this, (you and your now fiancée) still find yourselves connecting and consistently on the same page as a GI power-couple.

The academy teaches you to be able to take on nearly any challenge placed in front of you…multi-tasking to the ultimate dimension.  You are transferred from the young Zach Morris high-school graduate to someone who is much more polished and is ready to lead hundreds in any capacity. When graduation comes (and your class has been whittled down to less than 800 from 1200), for the first time in your life you cry tears of joy as you catapult your cap into the sky. You are ready for your next dare in life…and you still wonder at the end of it all “What’s my next challenge or goal to achieve? Am I doing well enough?…I need more.”

Stay tuned for more from Liz McLean……

Read another Liz McLean blog.

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