My First Week of Work and Some Books

My first week of work and I was so sick that the bit of skin that separate your nose holes (nasal passages?) was rubbed raw and thus, flakey? An incredible, cute first impression I made. Luckily, I suppose things could be much worse; I could’ve had a stomach problem or been in the field with either mentioned bodily issues.

I blame my most recent vaccine which, at the time of writing this, is on its 13th day of existence. Earlier this week, I was sitting in the waiting room of Urgent Care on Fort Carson because it had swelled to about a six-inch diameter. After waiting for three hours, a medic informed me that this was completely normal. Furious at having waited so long, I researched smallpox for an equal amount of time and have concluded I was suffering from a “robust take” because of course my body embraces all vaccines aggressively…

Being in a new unit is weird and having to think about how much things like vaccines and colds affect my social? Work? Life is funny. Maybe, most people don’t feel as hard as I do? I do know that in maybe one month I won’t remember this and hopefully, no one else will.

I’m just trying my best to be a proper officer or something.

I think I will be back on my feet by Monday and will start going to the gym after PT instead of coming home to shower. I will do this until I can pass that ACFT or until I am done with this job at brigade, whichever comes first; Back to dead-lifting three times a week and counting macros.

Something I’ve wanting to mention but hasn’t weaseled into a standard blog post yet is how much I love bookstores. I feel like no one dislikes bookstores, but there’s just something magical to me about seeing what’s hip and new in lit when I walk in that is so much more exciting than what my kindle says is hip and modern.

Walking through the aisles of gorgeous books vs. scrolling through small thumbnails has the same effect on me as when I open a bag of coffee grounds and can smell their aroma at 5 AM.

Matt and I went to a Barnes and Nobles that is only five minutes away from us.

It’s wild how popular graphic novels are now!

I’m all about it, especially since Persepolis is one of my favorite books of all time. I even read it in the original French!

I’ve been cheating though and was not at all on course for my Goodreads challenge this year, so I just binged a bunch of free graphic novels on Kindle Prime. I read The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina to be precise and only in case you don’t know what my opinion is from just knowing me; I’ll go ahead and say it: The graphic novels are so much better than the Netflix series.

Media I’m Consuming That You Should Be Too:

Books

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Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes

I love this book and all its details. It’s a must-read for anyone in the military as it is thought-provoking about leadership and war while still being written as a fiction book with great dialogue and action.

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Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

I will send this book out to all my friends who need a care package. It’s a slow read but entertaining, especially if you have any interest at all in the relationship and history between Koreans and Japanese.

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I just finished this today. I picked it up because my best friend from middle school, Sara Ramey, is published in it! I read all the short stories in it to include hers, and wow, they were profound and thought-provoking. It’s always a good reminder to read books like this about how incredible the English language is.

Awesome Stuff on Netflix

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I was laughing out loud! I felt so nervous and out of place, but it made me scream laugh. Daniel Radcliffe plays a corpse, and that line should tell you enough. It gave me hope that there are unique screenwriters out there. Please watch this if you’ve even had an inkling of a bad day.


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It’s cute. It appeals to me as an armchair theologian and a fan of New Girl.

Moving on from Ft. Sill

I’ve officially made it to Fort Carson! I’m sitting in a real house with a couch and bed instead of an apartment with neither of those.

It’s been a good time since the last time I posted: I went to Austin, TX (because who knows when I’ll be in Texas next); I did some last-minute adventures around FT Sill; I graduated FA CCC; I drove ten hours with my cat.

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In Austin, Matt and I celebrated the fourth of July weekend by watching fireworks from the rooftop of the library. It sounds lame, but it had unrestricted views of the show, BBQ, and alcohol soooo what could be bad? We ended up kayaking a bit and even checked out the Museum of the Weird which had a man who could conduct electricity through his body. I don’t know how to say it more exciting than factual because it was wild. I believe it was real. If you touched a light-bulb to him, it lit up! When touching him, it felt like brushing up against a light electric fence.

Arguably weirder though was the Yeti Cooler Flagship Store. We noticed a lot of crowds and wondered how all these people could be spending the 300 dollars to own a little cooler. It’s then we realized that half of the store was a bar and after getting a drink, you could sit on the various coolers around the store and enjoy it.

It was so…. Upper-middle-class millennial culture in one spot. It’s hard to explain, but Matt and I were truly blown away by how absurd it all was.

I guess that’s Austin for you?

The Tuesday following Austin, I had my final exam in FA CCC.

My section in FA CCC

My section in FA CCC

It was a four-hour essay based test. We got to use open notes and open publications though so I just had to write fast to get the information on paper but finding and knowing the material wasn’t hard. I guess that’s one thing that’s funny about the Army - you can figure out 98 percent of your job if you can find the right publication, so I guess it was a good test in that sense. Overall, I am not sure how vital CCC was for my development. I do think I needed something since I needed to learn the Military Decision Making Process (MDMP and for non-Army people, it’s this step action drill you use at BN and above to figure out how you want to do an operation). I do feel like it could’ve been condensed or taught online, but I am happy I got to meet so many new people and see my peers. When you’re at a unit, there aren’t many people of your same rank. To be with 14 in my squad alone and then 51 in the class, that was a good time! Also, getting to meet so many many people was a great chance to network and learn a bit of stuff that happened outside of Polk.

I am super excited to start working at a unit again. Right now, the rumor is that I will be going to a SBCT here at Carson. For artillery, I’ll be working with the same piece I worked on as an XO at Polk, the M777. The people I’m supporting won’t be light infantry though; it’ll be the heavy world.

I’m glad I can get the other side of the Army spectrum.

On the domestic front, I’m happy to be living with Matt again and to have a real house. It’s fun to own a home and to have a yard! I didn’t realize I was such a yard person until I got one. I like to sit on my patio and dig holes and plant things if I want without worrying about lease agreements and other people. One con that we have already run into is WALLPAPER. Usually, on shows like TLC where people buy houses, I judge people who say they don’t like a home because of the wall color. Surely you could fix it later! I scream at the TV. Well, after removing a room of wallpaper and having two more rooms left to remove, I completely understand.

Also, I will never buy wallpaper in my life, no matter how cute, and easy Anthropologie makes it look.

Drinking and Drawing

I’ve been drinking a lot more than I used to lately. I am not sure about the official scientific roll-up of all the effects of drinking, but I do know that it’s more calories than when I don’t consume alcohol and that my body feels weird the next day. I also know that while about two months ago, one beer was able to make me feel toasty, it now takes me way too much.

I would like to stop, but at the same time, I do enjoy the friendship that results from going out and sharing a drink. Of course, the obvious answer is that you don’t have to drink to have fun… but there is something about letting loose and just dancing for no reason on the streets.

I feel like quitting alcohol isn’t something that I want to do, but I do what to do it in moderation, and I want to figure out what precisely that means.

The good news though is that I received my Request for Orders (RFO) which for nonmilitary types, that is an order from the Army to give a warning to other people in the Army that I will be incoming personnel. So, it’s not genuinely official, but it’s the paper that allows the official paperwork to be written up and to alert my new unit that I am coming.

I got Fort Carson, Colorado! I won’t officially say I am there until I am physically in processing. There’re always these crazy stories that get told how so-and-so’s friend thought they were going somewhere and as they were driving across the expanse of Texas, they got a call that said orders changed, you’re going to Korea in two weeks.

If I had to bet poker chips on me going to Carson though, I would go all in. My husband is already there, and the Army does try their best with keeping military to military spouses together. My dwell time is still under a year as well. People with 55 months or higher of dwell time… it seems those people have less of a chance of getting precisely the post they want.

I’m still lifting and working out. I could always do better at that front. It’s hard not to get down on myself for not going every single day and running every day but at the same time, rest days are real. I remember when I did this team called Ranger Challenge at Fordham. We used to work out soooo hard that we started to get worse and worse at everything we did, much to the chagrin of the cadet in charge. Easter break then happened, and since I went to a Catholic School, we got a pretty long time off. I will never forget the feeling we got on the first workout back from break – I think we all shaved about 5 min off our run times for the lap we usually tried to complete around the Bronx. It was merely a testament to how vital recovery time is for the muscles. It seems I am saying that story as a crutch, which in some ways it might be, but I also know my body. I’d like to amp it up in a way that’s reasonable to keep me happy.

I am definitely seeing some results.

Remember, I first started lifting at 95 lbs as my one rep max. This last Friday I was able to do the prescribed weight (no scaling) for our group workout. It was 100 reps of 135 lbs straight bar lift split between four people. I was able to contribute 20 reps which, if you do the math, is a little short and I did have to break it up between the other exercises we had to complete, but I was happy I didn’t have to ask for a different weight bar and set up a smaller weight rack.

We got peer evals back, and we got to read what people thought were our strengths and weaknesses as well as being able to see how people ranked us numerically.

Only two people mentioned my physical strength as a weakness, which is nice as I know that it is, but if it weren’t a writable weakness for all 15 members of my small group, I’d constitute that as a win… It is something I’m aware of though.

The most common comments were related to my sensitivity. While a lot simply commented ‘too sensitive’ I did get some that said I ‘cared too much about CCC’ which made me laugh. I know that I take a lot of things to heart and then act out weirdly sometimes, and that is something I will forever have to work on and be aware of, but I don’t feel too bad for caring too much about my TRADOC. I do care a lot about everything, and I take pride in that. I just need to stay calm when things start ‘being wild.’

One person wrote that my weakness was simply, ‘light infantry’ and that made me laugh out loud but noted: when we learned about a breach being wide enough to get a tank battalion through, I did have to adjust my COA sketch because I was not ready to support that, among other mistakes I’ve made in class. This is my saga.

At the end of the day, I’m thankful for getting to befriend so many people. I’m also very excited to move out to be a captain in FORSCOM and to being in a unit again. Plus, living with my husband again will be a plus. I believe last month was the official mark for two years apart.

Writing Again

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Apparently, I can’t write for shit. Writing essays is a perishable skill. These last two weeks or so, we have had to turn in four different writing projects. The first one I didn’t do horribly, but it was an information memo where you are supposed to sum up information for your commander. AKA it needs to be succinct and save your commander from having to read the long paper/research you personally had to do. I am a wordy person so while I kept it at only a page, I was the opposite of concise. The next paper was a persuasive one, and we had to argue if towed artillery was still relevant in today’s fight. Today’s fight was defined as a fight that is moving away from COIN (counter-insurgency) and into multi-domain large scale combat.

Being from the world of light artillery/light infantry I argued that towed artillery is relevant.

I got smacked down on that paper.

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The next paper, a 7 pager I did in one sitting after doing research for three days, I actually feel will be okay. It was an analysis of a commander’s mission command during a specific battle. I got LTC Honeycutt during Hamburger Hill. I actually really enjoyed reading about him and found Hamburger Hill to be impressive. Plus, this paper was in the standard thesis style paper I am used to writing from college, so I didn’t have to count syllables or words the way you’re supposed to for information memos.

I did get a little frustrated this week though because one of the instructors, not mine, walked into the class and told us how company FSOs were irrelevant and that nothing in BOLC was useful for fire support.

Literally, everything I did as an FSO I used in BOLC. So, it made me feel like he was invalidating my fire support time which, while it wasn’t my favorite and was hard, I felt was successful.

I need to learn to stop being sensitive and that no one can know the path I walked. The officer who spoke to us was from Carson. This is a little nerve racking since that is where I want to go. One thing I have learned though is how much I don’t know about heavy artillery or heavy infantry.

We were talking about how to conduct a breach, and while the principles of breeching were the same between light and heavy, it was wild in the difference of scale. In heavy, they have to plan to get at least four tanks/large vehicles through at once which drastically changes how and what assets are blowing the hole. For light, we just have to make it big enough to walk some people through.

So, I’m trying to keep an open mind.

On the friend front, it’s going amazingly.

I’ve said this before, and I will repeat it, Polk sucks because with only one brigade and thus only one artillery battalion, friend selection is hard. Even if you loved every single person you met, there’s still only a small amount of people to hang out with. Here, it’s swarming with captains who just want to hang out! It’s cool getting to expand my social group and try out different things.

They also all are in pretty good shape and inspire me to get healthier and stronger. I’ve been lifting a lot more than I’ve ever lifted before in my entire life. Of course, I’m still not at the running level I was before I got injured. With the weather getting nice, I will start running again.

 

Currently Reading: Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War By Karl Marlantes

Currently Listening To: Billy Eilish

ACFT Stats:

  • 3 Rep Max Deadlift Hexbar: 150 lbs

  • Standing Power Throw: 4.8

  • Hand Release Pushups: 11

  • Sprint-Drag-Carry: 2:32

  • Leg Tuck: 1 2 Mile Run: 16:10

Field Artillery Captain's Career Course So Far

I love living in Oklahoma. The last time I was here for Field Artillery BOLC, I was so stressed out I couldn’t properly enjoy it. My friends and I went to the same handful of restaurants in between panicking on every single homework. Being in FA CCC, everything so far has been less stressful and more doable. I’ve already done a hike, checked out books from the library, and eaten at three new places. I’m sure it’s a combination of the instructor I have right now (a civilian) wanting us to pass gunnery and not wanting to scare us. It also helps that I can actually focus on what he is saying instead of being lost in the sauce and still uncomprehending of the differences between howitzers, let alone how to actually calculate data for them which was my problem as a new lieutenant.

Talking to newer LTs who were fresh out of BOLC at Polk, they seemed stressed too but less so. Sounds like the Artillery branch is trying its best to teach in a more approachable style. When I went through, we weren’t even allowed to have access to PowerPoint presentations but now they pass out every slideshow on discs, and you can take them home and study.

Picture in the hallways at FT Sill of 10th Mountain… my brigade Patriots logo is missing but at least we are the coolest looking artillery unit.

Picture in the hallways at FT Sill of 10th Mountain… my brigade Patriots logo is missing but at least we are the coolest looking artillery unit.

Since I have had less homework, I’ve also had more time to enjoy the surrounding area with friends. There’re many women in my class. We all realized we need to work on the new APFT standards. I am especially terrified of the dead-lift with a hex bar. The minimum standard is 180 lbs for combat MOS and all Officers. Every day during lunch we go and lift together. This week I’ve been doing 85 lbs…95 lbs to go. It’s nice having a group of women encourage me.

I’ve also been going to yoga, and I am in love with the instructor and class. Some of the stuff we are introduced to include: the crow pose, compass pose, handstands… it’s amazing. I’m glad to have a real hobby after work. I probably should’ve picked something like Cross Fit to really focus in on the new physical standards, but yoga gives me joy. In exchange for doing yoga, I must be more motivated by myself to workout. CCC is good about providing you work out time.

In the mornings we workout as a squad. I have three other women in my squad. Not to say I’m not becoming friends with the males, but it’s fun to have girlfriends to giggle about things with and who can assist you on pull-ups.

We pick a topic to discuss while we stretch out before starting a workout. So far, we have considered some thought-provoking things such as: if PT is useful; is staff duty for officers a good idea; is the new APFT a good idea.

You’d be surprised what we come up with. You’d probably think we would all be against staff duty, but the majority ended up arguing for keeping it, we all seemed to like the new APFT but are nervous about retention rates with it, and PT we all feel is a leadership opportunity more than a tool to have every single soldier max his PT test.

If I include working out as essential parts of my day, I still have a full day that probably takes me to 18/1900. But class time itself hasn’t been very long. We average getting out around 1500. Test days we get out before lunch/when you finish the test.

This is such a drastic change from working at Polk where I averaged leaving work at 1900/2000 and was way too exhausted (and hungry) to go workout.

We did get an in brief from the Commandant of the Field Artillery (BG Stephen G. Smith), and he did use the term ‘taking a knee’ aka getting a chance to take a break but warned us that it meant we needed to focus on improving our self with our free time. I’m glad he was honest that the schoolhouse for Captains is structured that way. No need to pretend its hard. Just tell us the reality.

If I can leave the schoolhouse with a respectable grade, pass the new APFT, able to do a handstand or headstand without wall support, and ready to sit and take the GRE, I will call this experience successful.

Maybe my goals and thoughts will change once we move past the gunnery block of instruction: I will keep you updated!

Leaving Fort Polk

Fort Polk is the worst duty station in the Army, and I’m finally leaving it. I get annoyed when other people try to claim that they are at the worst duty station that isn’t Polk. I’ve even had people stationed in Hawaii tell me they’re miserable.

What the hell?

I guess that’s proof that duty stations are what you make of them.

I was here before they built Chili’s though.

Before they built Chili’s, there was nowhere to go on a Sunday besides Walmart and this halfway decent Tex-Mex place.

Of course, everyone always told me that I needed to go fishing on Sundays. I actually never went! I also never went noodling, but maybe that’s a good thing.

You might be thinking that means I didn’t make the most out of Polk. You’d be wrong.

While I know that life is more than food, I can tell I’ve made the most of Polk by just talking to others. It is super easy for me to name a restaurant in a 30 min radius that no one I work with has heard of - and my restaurant choices are always amazing. For example, not many people know that the best food in all of Leesville is a place called Cuore Coffee. They have three pages of coffee and fantastic bulgogi.

There’s just no real place to hang out here. Every bar is a strip club. Of course, as I grow up mentally, I know that there’s more to good hangouts than places to drink at. So, my friends and I drive about an hour one way to Alexandria or Lake Charles to go do those escape rooms...

It sounds like I’m complaining a lot.

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I have one more complaint.

My biggest complaint is that Polk is actually so small. No one tells you in college or in BOLC that there really isn’t a lot of lieutenants to hang out with. At Polk, since there’s only one brigade (and support units like the hospital etc. I know, but you guys don’t hang with us) and Geronimo (JRTC OPFOR) it’s really really hard to find a good group. I came to Fort Polk with two other people from BOLC, and they both immediately went to Geronimo where their schedules just didn’t align with mine. I was also on rear d at the time of my arrival so I had only one other LT in my unit and he was fresh from Geronimo aka he had his group.

I apparently found my tribe here though as I got to meet my husband and a few close friends to include one of my bridesmaids.

I also can’t forget that I got my cat at the Western Louisiana Humane Society.

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I also learned a lot career-wise.

When I was in Kuwait during a norovirus quarantine, I got to spend a lot of time with one of my friends from BOLC who got stationed at FT Campbell. After talking to her, she said she had never met someone outside of Campbell that had done so many artillery things. I don’t know if she was just making a hyperbole but everyone calls Bragg and Campbell the place of opportunities, so it was nice to know that Polk had given me a seemingly good shot at making the best out of the Army in the eyes of someone stationed at a prestigious place.

#neverforget my FDC was best in the brigade 🙌🏻🤘🏼

I feel like I can also say I know how to walk in night vision now. Or at least bounce back after running with no sight and hitting a tree full force. Luckily, my next unit should be heavy which means less walking.

Some things I’ll miss about Fort Polk besides getting margaritas at a drive-thru after work is the small stuff -Crawfish boils and spontaneous trips to New Orleans which also means weird festivals, King cake, and oysters.

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I’ll oddly miss sitting in the field and watching all the wild horses.

One of the guys packing up my house told me how his wife likes to dress up in giant fancy hats with her friends and they go down to Natchitoches and have parties and pretend they’re in the film Steel Magnolias. Natchitoches is where they filmed that movie and I regret not wearing a large hat with strands of pearls on that river-walk.

I don’t think I’ll ever come back to Louisiana for fun unless one of my friends (probably a non-Fort Polk person) decides to have a bachelorette party in NOLA...Or if there’s a lawful order for me to go with the Army I guess. Fort Polk is doable, but I can’t wait for something new.

Acclimation is Slow

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The french camp I'm at right now is actually kind of quaint. They went out of their way to plant trees along the walkways. Measly trees but definetly oxygen prouting sticks. There's also fun vases with painted smiley faces. Whatever was planted there before is now dead, but I appreciate the effort. It's a very stark contrast to the camp I was at for three days while waiting for a helicopter to take me to this current one. This first one was massive and had coffee shops and pxs. But, it was just concrete everywhere. Occasionally, there would be some painted unit symbols to break up the grey but overall, it was just dusty and bleak. My body starts sweating when it recalls the overall Army feel of that camp.

It did have separate female bathrooms though.

At this small french camp, i share a bathroom with the males. It's kind of nice because just close the door behind you like a female restroom and it's not problem. No urinals out in the open so I don't have to see any of that. The only struggle for me is I don't want to be an inconvenance so I try to wake up early to workout and shower before everyone else. They built a sign i can put up in front of the shower area so I can have some privacy but I don't want to make people wait on me. I think coed bathrooms could be the way of the future for the army but separate shower time is needed. Maybe I am being too girly?

I must rely on friends to send me restocks of shampoo and soap in the mail or I can simply slip a 10 dollar bill to someone who gets to visit the big camps for business and if they have time I ask: "can you please pick me up some hot cheetos and as much laundry detergent as possible". Apparently Sephora can ship to me though. I haven't tried yet but every soldier orders pre-workout and vitamins from GNC so I feel like Sephora is the same thing, just a different set of priorities. Sometimes, you just don't want to smell like the only scent at the Army PX: Old Spice Body Wash.

Needing to speak French isn't incredibly vital. Would it make things a lot more efficient? Of course! But a lot of the officers seem to be pretty fluent in English. Fun fact, I no longer believe that Frenchmen are picky about accents. It took me 30 minutes of hand gestures and discussion to realize that what they were trying to tell me was "Sean Penn is a great actor" and not "champagne is great" because apparently I am the one who needs the right accent!

I'm doing my best to learn. I bought a subscription to "news in slow french" and Rosetta Stone. Rosetta Stone is mind numbingly boring but I bought a 90 day subscription so I. Must. Persevere.

I didn't realize how prevalent American television and movies are though. I tried asking a lot of people what french shows I could watch assuming this would help me learn French culture and French language. Alas, everyone just named off shows I have seen in English. Watching something more that once (besides Mulan and Amelie Poulain) is very painful for me. My goal is to become more social and also to speak more French and luckily for me, every week they play a movie for everyone to view together so I want to try to go to those more. Two weeks ago was Deadpool (with french voiceover). This week I think it was The Revenant? I'm sure all three words spoken in that movie were in french.

At the end of the day though, i just need to try to speak french even if it's ugly! Also, studying is just as painful as it was in school so I need to get motivated and try to study a lot more than I've been doing here.

Women in RTAC and Field Artillery

My future is for the most part, pretty clear. I was able to branch my first choice for the US Army and will be an active duty Field Artillery officer.

While I do get a very positive reaction to branching FA, I always have to field the question of if it was my first choice. The conversation then leads to discussing how many females were 'forced' to branch FA for year set '15.

It is unfortunate that women must be ‘forced’ to fill slots that did not want it but I think it is important that the Army does this. There is a stigma with combat arms even for males. In my experience, those that want infantry are considered the ‘tough guys’ who want to run around in the woods. The same goes for females in Field Artillery. By placing more females into this branch, younger generations can see that it is not such a big deal to branch FA and can thus imagine themselves doing it even if they are not the stereotypical tough combat arms female.

That being said, I am still confused about where women stand in today’s military.

Just because Field Artillery is trying to integrate women still leads the questions about what is the Army doing next.

I think it is great that we are having females go through different pre-ranger schools such as the recent news that 5 females have completed Ranger Training Assessment Course (RTAC). It is just a testament that if the Army is gender blind and sets the standard, any Soldier should be given a chance to meet that standard.

I do not think anyone in favor of seeing the combat role increased for women is saying we should lower the standard for females.

What is not being talked about it that this is just an experiment and that these RTAC courses might not include women when ‘testing’ is over.

The verbiage for combat arms inclusion of females is still grey:

...the Pentagon ordered the services to open ground combat fields to women by 2016. Services can still request a waiver if they want to exclude women from any occupational field. -USA Today

Also, for Army ROTC duty station selection, it should be noted that females such as myself branching field artillery are restricted to what posts we can pick. Currently, I can only choose between nine posts compared to my male counterparts who can pick between 16 different posts. Some of the posts I could not pick were Alaska, Hawaii, and Campbell.