A woman in the ranks
Army ROTC cadet redefines ‘rank and file’
At a young age, Cadet Sara Albertson discovered the career she wanted as an adult.
As a sixth-grader in Charleston, S.C., Albertson did a report on the national news coverage of the Vietnam War. Her conclusion was that American media had done something of a disservice to U.S. soldiers by focusing too much on the blood and gore of war and too little on soldiers’ humanity.
The importance of journalism in a military context remained with Albertson, she says now, and fueled her own personal ambitions to become a combat correspondent.
Her high school years, however, presented few options for paying for college, she said. “For a long time I just thought I wasn’t going to go to school.”
When opportunity finally knocked, in the form of a military recruiter, she realized that military service could not only help her become a combat correspondent, it would make her a better informed reporter.
What’s more, she found, Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) often offered full-ride scholarships, and so she began her search.
She disqualified some programs, she said, because their scholarships would have limited her to STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematic) degrees, not her preference of a journalism degree.
“If you’re going to go to college, and if you’re really going to push for this career that you want, why would you go for something you don’t want to do?” she says now.
Albertson soon encountered other roadblocks. In meeting with representative from some ROTC programs, Albertson sensed they had reservations about female cadets.
At one ROTC, for instance, service members questioned her ability to complete the required two-mile run as part of physical training.
Now, four years after she made the decision to join the U.S. Army ROTC based in Utah State University’s Military Science Department, she’s on track to graduate in May 2018 with a degree in journalism and communication. Plus, she’s been named the Cadet Battalion Commander for spring 2018 semester.
She appreciates the great support she has felt since her first days, she said. “This school is so much more open to females being actual members of their detachment,” Albertson says of USU’s Jim Bridger Detachment. “They want you to be a member of their team.”
For his part, Capt. Michael Andersen, an assistant professor in Military Science, says he’s “glad Sara chose to come to school here and that we have created an environment where she can grow and develop as a leader, regardless of her gender.”
And, he adds, he has never had reservations about Albertson’s potential — in the field or in headquarters.
“Sara is a remarkable leader who has exceptional critical-thinking ability,” said Andersen. “She processes information rapidly and is able to look ahead for possible second- and third-order effects to her decisions. She has no issues communicating with younger cadets, peers or superiors and has a keen sense of interpersonal tact.”
A spokesman for her country
Now a senior, Albertson has taken on the duties of a public affairs officer (PAO) for the Jim Bridger Detachment, a role she hopes to parlay into a full-time career. She’s been offered a similar position with the Utah National Guard, once she graduates and achieves the rank of a captain. Using a military timeline, she estimates that will require about four years.
Albertson says despite the negativity and kick-back directed at journalists in recent months, she sees lots of room for growth and positivity. She looks forward, she says, to representing the military in the media as a public affairs officer – not just for the career opportunities, but because it fulfills her sense of duty to her country.
“I do believe journalists … protect our freedom of speech,” Albertson explains. “We protect a lot of the rights Americans have.”
The position as PAO also allows Albertson to convey another message, one she’s practiced since her beginnings in the ROTC.
“I would like it if people would stop assuming that the military is this impossible thing for people to do,” she said.
In Albertson’s view, many physically and mentally competent women cling to the belief that military life is far too difficult. It’s a saddening outlook for Albertson, because to her it is a lost opportunity based in misconception.
“I want — particularly females — to know that this is something that they can do,” Albertson says. “This is not some impossible fantasy; there’s no reason to believe that this wasn’t meant for you.”
Also, “I have my own personal goal,” says Albertson. According to the Department of Defense’s 2015 statistics, women make up 16.8 percent of all service members. She hopes to help increase that to 40 percent. The military, she adds, needs diversity in viewpoints to stay relevant.
“To stay on top,” Albertson explains, “we have to be constantly adapting and changing.”
Flexibility of a ‘weekend warrior’
Aside from her regular duties, Albertson spent much of September and October training to compete in the Ranger Challenge at Camp Williams. In the Oct. 13-14 event, teams of ROTC cadets from throughout northern Utah completed in a variety of military-related challenges.
“You run from one challenge to the next,” Albertson says, seemingly exhausted by the mental images of the contest. “And whoever finishes first wins.”
She’s also a resident behavior technician at Utah Behavioral Services where she works one-on-one with children with autism. If her initial plans with the Utah National Guard come to fruition, Albertson said, she plans to continue her current line of work — and manage a military public-relations career.
“I like the idea of being a weekend warrior,” Albertson says. “I have a lot of paths in the civilian world that have made themselves available to me after college, and that’s been great. I’m very fortunate.”
Sara Albertson, the detachment’s public affairs officer, created this video about the sweat and joys of the Ranger Challenge at Camp Williams.