Nov. 12, 2012
STANFORD, Calif. - In honor of Veterans Day, Stanford soccer goalkeeper and Air Force ROTC cadet Aly Gleason wrote the following blog, which is posted here and at espnw.com:
There are moments in life when the whole world seems to freeze, and all that's left is you and your thoughts. For some, this moment might come just before a huge test, or the day of their wedding. For me, it happened at the age of 18.
I will never forget when I walked into my Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) commander's office, and he laid in front of me the biggest decision of my life. It was four papers, requiring three signatures and multiple initials, that once signed would lock me into four years of service after college.
As I picked up the pen, I had that moment; everything stopped and my thoughts were consumed by the possibilities the future held. By the end of the "n" on my signature, I knew that whatever future was in store for me, I was right where I wanted to be.
It wasn't until that day when I sat down with my life in front of me that I questioned my decision to serve in the U.S. Air Force. I thought back to my childhood and watching my grandmother struggle with rheumatoid arthritis. My and I would sit by her hospital bed as she went through surgery after surgery to rebuild her movement. Even at that age, when I was 12 years old, I knew what I wanted to do when I grew up. I wanted to put on the plastic gloves and facemask, and save lives so no one had to feel the pain my grandmother did.
For the next six years of my life, I gave everything to school and sports so I could get into the best college and do just that -- save lives. When I was recruited to Stanford for soccer, I was ecstatic, not only because the soccer team was the best in the nation, but I would be near by my family (Stanford is 120 miles from her hometown of Atwater, Calif.). I would have every opportunity to pursue becoming the doctor I had always dreamed of. Unlike most who follow the military path, I have no history of prior service in my family. So when I arrived at Stanford and heard about a program called ROTC, which was training for college students who want to join the military, I was amazed that such a program existed. It seemed like the perfect fit for all that I had spent years cultivating: leadership, physical strength, endurance and a desire to save lives.
I went to the leadership laboratory my freshman year with a hopeful heart and open mind, and came out feeling at home. I loved it. I loved the intense environment, the physical and mental demand, the teamwork, the challenge and the people.
Much like with active duty, the longer you are in the ROTC, the more responsibility and time the program demands. My junior and now senior years have required a much greater balance as my cadet jobs have become more involved. When not in soccer season, I travel to San Jose a minimum of three times a week to train, instruct and educate the underclassmen who want to dedicate their lives to something bigger than themselves.
ROTC has blessed me with some incredibly unique opportunities. The summer after I contracted into the Air Force, I was given the chance to get my jump wings at the Air Force Academy. I spent two weeks at the Air Field in Colorado Springs training to jump out of airplanes solo.
At the end of the two weeks I had completed five successful solo jumps and was awarded my wings, signifying that I have experience as a parachutist -- a patch that can be worn on my uniform for all my years of service.
The following summer, between my sophomore and junior years, I attended field training, a four-week basic training that pushed my limits of physical and mental exhaustion. The combination of the heat of Alabama, lack of sleep and constant evaluation allowed me to develop the skills of being a leader under pressure.
This past summer, I was selected as a combatives instructor for the cadets going through field training. I spent two weeks back in Alabama teaching hand-to-hand combat, which included wrestling and instructing for 12 hours a day.
It was an amazing experience to watch cadets, exhausted from hours of work, fight each other with every ounce of strength and will possible. I was reminded every day that I joined the military for people like this: dedicated to our nation, willing to give up anything and everything to win, but then have the character to shake the hand of their friend afterward.
ROTC has taught me more about my limits and desires than any other program I have been a part of, but my career as an Airman is just beginning. This June, I will graduate from Stanford and commission into the Air Force. I will be assigned my first job and base, where I will spend the next four years serving this great nation.
I am incredibly excited to finally enter active duty after years of training. I know that wherever I end up, I will be surrounded by people who will inspire me to be the best I can, push me to explore the unknown and continually remind me of my grandmother and my goal to save lives, just as ROTC has the past four years.
Gleason and her Stanford teammates will play host to Santa Clara in the second round of the NCAA tournament on Friday at 7 p.m. at Laird Q. Cagan Stadium. It will be the second match of a doubleheader that begins with Denver against Maryland at 4:30 p.m. The winners play each other in the third round on Sunday at 1 p.m., also at Laird Q. Cagan Stadium. Tickets can be purchased onlin at gostanford.com, by phone at 1-800-STANFORD, and in person at the Stanford Stadium ticket office.