Radford University junior Ashley Petersen, a cadet in the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC), is positioning herself for a future in service, not just in the military but in service to humanity.
Petersen is at RU on a four-year scholarship, and when the Blacksburg native talks about how she ended up at Radford, she glows.
"When I applied for scholarships, I just told the truth. My relationship with God guides me. I have been on mission trips to Africa, and I got to experience things from a different perspective." She wanted to enroll in a military program in college and study nursing, and she chose Radford instead of a larger university. "I am pleased here. It's a small school, and I like that."
Petersen said all her decisions are based on spiritual perspectives, and she goes in the direction she is led. She is active in Campus Crusade for Christ and conducts a Bible study for friends on campus. However, having a spiritual compass doesn't mean the road is always easy.
Last year Petersen learned she had been selected for the Leader Development and Assessment Course (LDAC) training program in Fort Lewis, Wash., the most intensive training that ROTC cadets endure. Among the many exercises and classes in preparation were land navigation, physical training and reenactments of squad and patrolling missions. "It was fake, but it was just like the real thing," she recalled. "I was studying pre-nursing, and it was a busy time. It was difficult."
The drills were grueling. "We had to go through the obstacle courses, gas chamber, and also had to take a water course. With these missions, like land navigation, you do as well as you can."
A major in early childhood education was one path she considered, but "I prayed about it, and made this decision. So far I'm enjoying it a lot," she said. "When we face challenges in the program, we can overcome them as a unit. ROTC is not for wimpy people."
After college, Petersen hopes to use her nursing and military skills on U.S. bases overseas, perhaps in Germany. "Germany is where the soldiers on the front lines come for care and are stabilized and get their rehabilitation started. It's a stopping point for them on the way to the States."
She also hopes to have opportunities for more mission trips, possibly opening or working in an orphanage. Whatever the project, she said, she wants to make sure it's the right one for her before she makes a commitment.
Petersen is enrolled during an exciting time for ROTC at Radford. This fall the program enrolled the largest class in its history at RU. In September, the university was listed in the 2012 Guide to Military Friendly Schools.
Reflecting on her experience with RU ROTC, Petersen reiterates that the program is not for everyone. "Make sure it's something you really want to do. It's a decision that needs to be made with all your heart and mind. You can't do this for the money, and you can't do it for anyone else."