Hannah Brau was already exhausted when she picked up her weapon and started running. The goal: make it to the top of the hill and defend it. Hannah raced over rough terrain, unable to feel her face, hands and feet from the bitter cold. She strained to see through her fogged goggles as her squad leader yelled, “You need to pick it up.”
Hannah could have quit at any moment, but she kept going.
Two years after her first field training exercise, Hannah is now a platoon sergeant in the BYU Army ROTC program and headed on the path towards becoming an Army officer — a dream she has had from a very young age.
“When I was a kid, I would dress up in my dad’s army gear and wear his battle dress uniform to the grocery store,” Brau said. “It’s always been a draw to me, something I always thought would be important for me to do.”
The U.S. military has opened several doors for women in recent years. Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter announced in December 2015 that all military positions, including the infantry, would be open to any individual who qualifies and meets specific standards — regardless of gender.
Women currently make up 14.6 percent of the active duty military branch and about 19.5 percent of the military reserves. Numbers in both areas of service are expected to rise as more opportunities for women are made available.
This past October, the U.S. Army graduated 10 women from its first gender-integrated infantry office course, a huge step for the military.
Jack Sturgeon is the BYU ROTC recruiting officer and said the program has an 8 percent female ratio.
“There are great opportunities for women in the army,” Sturgeon said. “They can go into any career field the army offers. There’s equal pay, equal opportunities for advancement, and you don’t see that in every walk of life.”
One of the great opportunities offered through BYU is the ROTC scholarship, which Hannah applied for and received while in high school.
Sturgeon said the committee offers scholarships to students who excel in the areas of scholastics, athletics and leadership.
“The reason we look at those three areas is because it transitions so well to the life of an army officer,” Sturgeon said. “If they like those three things they’re going to like being an Army officer because we’re all about education.”
Dr. Jim Brau, Hannah’s father and a former Army captain, said the ROTC program is a great strength and support to the BYU community.
“The cadets learn discipline, how to be punctual and show up to meetings on time,” Brau said. “They learn to be reliable, they learn how to be entrusted with very important jobs and information, they learn how to wake up early, they keep up physical fitness. These skills can be applied to anybody inside and outside the military.”
Laura Cabanilla, an attorney in Provo, has applied her disciplinary skills both inside and outside the military. Cabanilla served in the U.S. Army Reserve for 30 years, reaching the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. She was deployed to the Middle East in 2010 in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
“The Army was a confidence builder, especially at basic training,” Cabanilla said. “You have someone yelling at you and you have to remain stoic. You don’t break down and cry.”
Cabanilla said the confidence and skills she developed through her Army training prepared her to raise four young children, three being triplets, while pursuing a degree in law. In 1994, she graduated from J. Reuben Clark Law School in the top half of her class.
“The Army taught me discipline and how to allocate my time,” Cabanilla said. “It was very good for me.”
Grant Hadley, a third year cadet in the Army ROTC program and Hannah’s comrade, said the Army mentality is focused around accomplishing a mission.
“Number one is having the drive and desire to accomplish those things,” Hadley said. “Second is being a team player and being able to work well with others.”
Hadley said there are a lot of spiritual parallels to be drawn from military experience.
“If you look at how good Christian behavior is required, it’s being self-sacrificing, placing the needs of others before your own, serving others and casting out fear and doubt and moving forward,” Hadley said.
Hannah said the lessons learned in the Army can be applied to all people from various backgrounds, regardless of whether they served in the military or not.
“You learn a certain type of mentality in the army that every successful person learns at some point in their life, whether it be through athletics, academics, etc.,” Hannah said. “It helped me be tougher in every aspect of my life. Every single one.”