Woman VMI Cadet Prepares for Iraq Duty
By Amy May
Special to American Forces Press Service
CAMP ATTERBURY, Ind., Jun. 21, 2007 Like many college students, Sarah McIntosh will work an internship this summer. She won’t be working in the mailroom, at a bank or acting as a gofer for an advertising agency, though. Her internship will be a little more intense and adventurous.
Cadet Sarah McIntosh acquires a target through the sights on her M-4 rifle during training on June 19, 2007, at Camp Atterbury Joint Training Center, Ind. McIntosh is the first woman cadet to serve in a United States war from Virginia Military Institute. Photo by Staff Sgt. Russell Klika, USA
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The Virginia Military Institute cadet is going to the Middle East with the Virginia National Guard’s 429th Transportation Company. The 20-year-old specialist is the first woman VMI cadet to deploy.
She joined the Virginia Guard when she was in high school. She did not have to deploy with the 429th when it was activated because she is a student, but she chose to fulfill her Guard duties.
“I just want to get experience before I become an officer. I don’t think you should be an officer until you’ve had some experience,” she said.
The Guard will help her with that. The 429th will run transportation missions in Iraq, which is one of the more hazardous duties in the country.
McIntosh admitted to being afraid about some parts of what lies ahead. “Who wouldn’t be?” she asked. “But it will also be exciting. I’ve never been in that situation before.”
Her Guard membership has also benefited her college career by helping her complete the rigorous requirements at VMI, she said. Cadets undergo nine months of basic training, plus they attend regular college classes and have cadre time.
“Everything I learned in (Guard) basic, they re-taught at VMI. … M-16, leadership, it was all review, but it was good,” she said. “I crystallized it in my memory.”
McIntosh decided she wanted to attend VMI when she was in the sixth grade and growing up in Lexington, Va., the home of VMI. She comes from a military family. Her parents are Air Force veterans, and her aunt and uncle were also in the military. Her older brother, Joe, also attends VMI and is also in the Army National Guard, but he plans go into the Air Force after graduation.
Her family is worried about her deployment, McIntosh said, but they also understand her desire to go, and they are excited for her. Her dad talked to the leaders of the 429th to make sure they are “watching out for his little girl,” she said.
Although there are a few 18-year-olds in the 429th, McIntosh will be one of the youngest soldiers.
She is a sophomore majoring in Spanish. McIntosh will graduate in 2008 and receive her commission to the Army, where she hopes to make her career. She plans to stay in the Guard until graduation and then revert to active duty.
Her tour of duty will benefit her military career in the long run, she believes, but right now, she is concentrating on training and preparing for the mission.
“I just want experience in general, and obviously to learn more about the military, get leadership skills and have a little fun if I can, such as being with my unit, being in a different country and driving the big trucks,” she said.
VMI gave McIntosh permission to leave for active duty. The school has allowed cadets to participate in conflicts throughout history, beginning with the Civil War, where 10 cadets died on the battlefield.
The 180 soldiers of the 429th are training here for deployment later this summer, said Staff Sgt. Robert Thompson. They will drive 915s, the military semi trailers, on supply runs that could last one to four days. The soldiers initially will go to Kuwait, but Thompson said he’s not sure exactly where they will be based in Iraq.
The training they are receiving is helpful, Thompson said. The soldiers are becoming familiar with the equipment and learning what to expect as far as improvised explosive devices and other threats are concerned.
“They’re giving us good info. It’s helpful,” he said.
Sgt. Channing Lynch was deployed in 2003 and has noticed a difference in the training.
“There are lots more hands-on activities this time,” he said. IEDs were just becoming a threat as the soldiers were finishing their training four years ago, he said.
“We didn’t hear much about them until we were there. We trained more for small-arms fire and mortars,” he said.
At Camp Atterbury this summer, the soldiers will spend quite a bit of time learning to react to IED attacks, as well as sniper fire, mechanical failure and injuries they might encounter on a combat logistical patrol mission.
Spc. Zachary Adler, who is on his first deployment, said the soldiers are being trained for every possible scenario. He is especially impressed with the first aid training. The unit will have emergency medical personnel, he said, but other soldiers are learning how to give basic care to the wounded until the medics can take over. “It’s good that everyone has some (first aid training),” he said.
The transportation mission is one of the most important in the military, Lynch said.
“Transportation is the backbone of the military. Without supplies, they would not be able to support themselves,” he noted.
Thompson added that the 429th, which is made up of soldiers from several units, is banding together and is ready to take on the mission.
“It’s something we volunteered to do. We have a lot of good unit cohesion, so we’ll take care of each other,” he said.
(Amy May is a staff reporter for The Crier at Camp Atterbury, Ind.)