Military opportunities defy preconceived notions

By J1 Reporter Gabby Roche 

Cadet Maddie Clark is a Marian alum, Class of ’21 and she is the definition of determination. She was in a horrible car crash and was badly injured her senior year. (See KETV Feb. 24, 2021 coverage). https://www.ketv.com/article/champion-swimmer-overcomes-injuries-after-head-on-crash/35484478# 

Before the accident, the Army reached out to her. They wanted to recruit Clark for their swim team. “No way, like, the Army is reaching out to me right now and they want to talk to me,” Clark said. Everyone thought that was over. They thought: no West Point Academy and a long recovery. Maddie did not want to give up. She worked hard and recovered that same year. Clark ended up getting the weight room deadlift record for Marian and went to State for swimming. 

Cadet Maddie Clark; Cadet,Maggie Kroening; Cadet Meghan Cole; Cadet Maya Amersi; showing off their swim team swag under their uniforms. Photo courtesy of Clark

Clark decided to study mechanical engineering. She loves math and thought it was perfect for her. She likes how general the major is and could do a lot with it later.

She was unsure at first, but when she looked into West Point Military Academy in New York, she fell in love with it. “They have my major. I love the [swim] program. I want to be in the Army. I want to swim there, so this is perfect,” Clark said. 

Since Clark was recruited, it was easier for her to get in. Usually the process to apply is: four different recommendations from not only teachers but congressmen and women, three essays, a physical test and a medical process, but if there was something wrong with that, you had to get a waiver. Because she was in that accident earlier in the year, “I had to get a ton of waivers, which was crazy,” she said. 

Clark went through many changes her first year or plebe year at the Academy. She couldn’t talk outside. She could go on walks, but had to stay within 5 miles of the Academy. She wasn’t allowed to date an upperclassman. Only one pass to leave campus was granted per semester. Upon leaving campus, she had to wear the dress uniform, white over grey. 

As a sophomore she has a lot more privileges and responsibilities. Clark is a team leader. She is responsible for counseling and teaching the plebes (first years) some facts about West Point.

A typical day in Maddie’s life looks a little different than most cadets because she is in swim season. 

5:20 Wake up

5:45 – 8:10 Swim practice and lifting 

8:10 Breakfast

8:45 – 12:00 Classes 

12:00 Lunch Formation

12:30 Comms hour (Extra training time, more Army based)

1:30 – 3:25 Class

4:30 – 6:30 Swim practice 

Dinner 

Homework

“I really like how structured life is. There are so many aspects that push me and get me to be the best version of myself,” Clark said. This may be unappealing to many people, but it’s not serious business all the time either. Clark gets to make her dorm room her own. There are game nights and sports nights. Also, as a swim team member she gets together with her team and they have team bonding activities. 

Clark said she is having a great time and loving the Academy, but there are some difficulties. In the undergraduate enrollment of 2021 only about 24% of the undergrads were women. She has at most six girls in one of her classes but at least one in the others. 

Clark says it’s different because she struggled a little bit with her confidence at first. Marian taught her how to be confident, in a group of women, but that supportive environment was gone when she graduated. Presenting to a group full of men that may not agree with her or doubt her knowledge, has helped her confidence to grow. One day she was working on a project with a male cadet and shared her ideas with him. “He thought that I was being defensive and bossy,” Clark said. But she had confidence and told him she was simply showing him her ideas.

“Don’t be afraid to be confident, like this is very much a man’s Army right now and so we need more women who are able to take that initiative,” Clark said.

Military schools have many benefits according to Clark. Like the fact that the government pays your tuition to go there because you technically are a part of the military. All food, uniforms, and board are paid for, too. Also, you get paid monthly for living expenses, Clark gets paid $330 a month just for being there. The benefits extend beyond material things though. 

“I’ve already seen myself mature, grow, and change and I’ve only been here for a year. My priorities have changed completely,” Clark said.

She has met many new people and has grown through connections. One of the unique things about West Point is that she gets a chance to lead people during her time at the Academy and for the five years of active duty after the Academy. 

Not only Marian girls have decided to serve their country, but a few teachers and staff have also served the country in uniform. 

Physics teacher, Mr. Matt Winterboer was a Lieutenant submarine officer in the Navy and he enjoyed traveling. He actually went to Scotland and played golf with the crew of a British submarine. He had a fun time. His favorite story while in the Navy was that he met the First Lady Laura Bush. She was the sponsor of his ship the U.S.S. Texas and came to the commissioning. “She was right next to me when I got my dolphins,” Winterboer said. Dolphins was just the name they gave their submarine warfare pins because they had dolphins on them. 

Growing up in small town Iowa he didn’t have many opportunities to work with a diverse group of people. The Navy changed his life, “It opened my eyes to what a wide sense of experiences we came from,” Winterboer said. 

College counselor, Mr. Ben Ascher also served in the Navy for six years and became a First Class Petty Officer. “I was forever grateful because the military gave me a second chance,” Ascher said. He felt his college experience was not the best because he made a couple missteps in choosing his college. He decided to go to a college for baseball because he got a scholarship, but they didn’t have his major. He then chose to go into the military.  When he went into the Navy, “It gave me the chance to shift my focus to where it needed to be, it gave me the chance and opportunity to prove myself and it gave me opportunity to be a leader,” Ascher said. 

Ascher has had a few run-ins with some foreign dignitaries in other countries. One of Ascher’s favorite stories was when he met Prince Albert II of Monaco, the son of Grace Kelly, (a famous actress in the 1950s) and exchanged a military patch for Asher’s Navy cap. He has the patch in his office along with many others and even a piece of the oldest active warship, the U.S.S. Constitution. He also played bocci ball with the Mayor of Toulon, France. Many other fun opportunities arose while he was in the military, like scuba diving in Greece. 

The military presents amazing opportunities to travel, serve the country, and be a leader. “If you have preconceived notions about it, they probably aren’t true and you need to look into it more because this place [West Point Military Academy]  is awesome and it has so many great benefits, so many good people, who love it,” Clark said. 

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