After years of training, I'm ready for duty

Aly Gleason's experiences as a ROTC cadet include earning her wings as a parachutist and teaching hand-to-hand combat. Courtesy Aly Gleason

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.

Unlike most who follow the military path, there is 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. From the age of 12, after watching my grandmother suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, I knew I wanted to be a doctor. Serving in the military would give me the ability to concurrently save lives as a soldier and as a doctor.

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 solo out of airplanes.

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. In 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.