By Chantelle Tuitele
Women in the BYU ROTC program are overcoming stereotypes by joining the ROTC and serving in the military.
Rachel Payne, 22, a senior from Yuba City, Calif. was raised in the Air Force because her father was a navigator for almost 20 years.
Payne said she enjoyed moving every three or four years with her family. When she was in high school, she became interested in going to medical school.
“I wanted to find a way to be a doctor and still move around a lot,” Payne said.
Now, Payne is trying to fulfill that goal as one of 16 women in the BYU Air Force ROTC. The Air Force will pay for her medical schooling because she signed a contract stating she will serve the country for about a decade after she graduates from BYU — something she said she is willing to do.
Sonie Foster, 21, a junior from Kearney, Neb. majoring in wildlife and range resources is one of seven women in the BYU Army ROTC. Initially, she joined the Army because she needed a way to pay for college.
After an Army Reserve recruiter told Foster she could be in the Reserves and go to school at the same time, she decided to join the Army. Now she is in the Simultaneous Membership Program, which allows her to be in both the Reserves and the ROTC.
“I”ll admit, the first time I joined the Army was just purely for the money, but when I got there I realized how much I liked it.”
Sergeant Jennifer M. Valderrama, assistant non-commissioned officer in charge in the Air Force ROTC staff, said she wishes she had known about the ROTC when she was in high school because the program allows students to become officers in the military, and offers scholarships that will pay for schooling.
But there”s another side to the story. In their experience as ROTC cadets, Payne and Foster said they”ve discovered there are some people who feel women don”t belong in the ROTC. But the two cadets said it doesn”t bother them.
“Most people look at joining the Army as a career move and some people don”t interpret that as being complimentary to the Church,” said Major Gregory Weisler, assistant professor of military science in the Army ROTC.
Payne disagrees with those who feel the ROTC is no place for women.
“The Church encourages us to get an education, to live good lives, and to be anxiously involved in good causes,” Payne said. “The military fulfills all of those.”
Despite what some might think, women in the ROTC and in the military in general are able to maintain feminine qualities while doing everything the men do, Sergeant Valderrama said.
“You don”t have to look tough to be tough,” she said. “I”m a mother, a wife, a woman and a warrior at the same time.”
BYU Air Force cadet William Andrews, 23, a junior from West Stockbridge, Mass. majoring in history agrees with Sargeant Valderrama.
“I would challenge anyone with issues about women in the ROTC, to put up with the physical standards and stressful situations female cadets put up with while preparing for boot camp,” Andrews said.
When Payne went to boot camp this past summer, she found there were some men who thought the women had it easier than they did.
On the contrary, Major Weisler said, “We don”t treat the women any differently in terms of what the requirements are, but I do caution them about not falling prey to stereotypes.”
When Andrews went to boot camp, he said one of the top cadets in his flight, a basic organization in the Air Force ROTC, graduated with honors. The cadet was a woman.
“She did a great job, and I don”t think that”s uncommon,” Andrews said.
The goal of the ROTC is to instill in cadets good leadership skills. The program gives men and women equal opportunities to hold leadership positions.
Payne is the Training Curriculum Officer in the BYU Air Force ROTC, which means she is in charge of the advanced training program that requires all cadets to go through intense physical training to prepare for boot camp in the summer.
“The women do the exact same things we do,” said Army cadet Dustin Phelan, 22, a sophomore from Auburn, Wash. majoring in bio-chemistry. “They work to their own ability, and that”s basically what anybody here has to do. We don”t try to compete against each other.”
Phelan also said that although there are few women in the ROTC, they always do well.
“They”re really good leaders,” he said. “Having them in the ROTC is a good thing because they bring different view points to the program.”
Foster said members of the ROTC don”t see gender.
“They just see somebody that does the job,” she said. “If I had to go to war now, I would go because I”m proud of my country and I would give my life for it.”
As women, Payne and Sergeant Valderrama share Foster”s convictions. They said they too would go to war if they had to.
“We serve our country and we dedicate our lives to the defense of this country and to upholding the Constitution and maintaining the way of life that everybody enjoys,” Major Weisler said. “I think both men and women should be involved in that.”