In the spring of 2007 I was preparing myself for the Army's accelerated Officer Candidate School in South Dakota. However, I was medically discharged and never went. During the application process a soldier submits a packet that includes mental and physical test scores, letters of recommendation, a photo, and an autobiography. I was determined to work, 'shock and awe' into it. This is what I wrote.
I was neither born nor raised to become an officer in the United States Army; rather this goal emerged as a result of a life spent pursuing the next unique challenge. From a birth in Kansas to two very different parents, to art school in Minneapolis, to the National Guard and a degree in elementary education, and lastly standing on the threshold of Officer Candidate School, I want to tell you how I not only learned how to lead myself, but to demonstrate how OCS will give me the tools needed to be a leader in the community.
I was born in Olathe, Kansas, on the morning of May 13, 1982. My mother, Nano Nore, who’s described herself, as “a bit of a bohemian, but without the drugs” was a painter and professor of art at the local college. My father, Donald Lueders, a certified electronics engineer, was responsible for some of the first closed caption broadcasting systems. These two very different people were responsible for my unique upbringing that included toddler years spent in England, attending both air shows and peace rallies, and growing up in basements filled with circuit boards and garages full of artwork. This juxtaposition of lifestyles, thinking, and values showed me that differing people were capable of being united for a purpose, a challenge. This was a fact that I wouldn’t more fully realize until after moving away to college.
At the age of eighteen I was accepted to the Minneapolis College of Art and Design based upon my graphic design portfolio and my desire to make movies. It was the year 2000, I was no longer a legal child and I found myself living eight hours away from all authority figures. The college I was attending made me the assistant to the professor of film and video. It was now my job to teach students older than me how to make movies, and I did it well. This however did not make me happy. The challenge that I expected at college never surfaced; I found that with most courses one could command one's way into good grades. If one wanted to, one could puke onto a piece of paper and turn it in for a grade. As long as one talked a good game and spoke with confidence, the class and the teacher listened. After one year I was ready for another challenge, so I decided to take on the University of Minnesota and become an astronomer.
One thing that I have learned in life is to dream big because even if you don’t make it you end up stronger and somewhere better. This accurately describes my first year at the University. I whole-heartedly took courses on astronomy and physics. Every day I would sit in the front row, centered and doe eyed hearing about the universe, the number of tons one spoonful of a star is supposed to weigh and why. In astronomy I had found my challenge. My free time was spent mulling over heavenly bodies, space-time, and the invisible hills of gravity that make planets circle stars like marbles rolling around a sink bowl. However, after attending college level calculus, my dream was deferred. As it turns out that while I was capable of imagining myself working behind a telescope I was incapable of the mathematics astronomers do while they are looking through the telescope. It was then that I realized that I had limits. I had about the same chance of being an astronomer as I did of a 5’8’’ man being drafted by the NBA. It is about this time that my 45 year old father called me to proudly declare that he had just finished paying off his college loans. While I may not be great at math, simple addition told me that I needed to find a different way to pay for school.
I joined the Minnesota Army National Guard in April 2002 to the shock and awe of my parents and friends. All that my surprised father could say was, “Well, we’ll see.” My concerned mother wanted to make sure I understood the moral weight of enlisting in the military, and the girl I was dating was dumbfounded, supportive, but completely baffled at my decision. Come July I found myself at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, less than 250 miles from my hometown and a world away from everything I knew.
During the first week of basic training the drill sergeant lined up our platoon. I watched as he asked the first soldier why he had joined the U.S. Army to which he proudly stated, “For the country, Drill Sergeant!” Insulted, the Drill Sergeant dropped him and asked, “You think you know what’s right for the country, Private?” He then moved to the next soldier who said, “Because the Military is in my family and because of 9/11, Drill Sergeant!” All the Drill Sergeant said was, “Bullshit, Private. Drop!” I was next in line. I thought to myself that first couple of answers was pretty good and had I not seen the results of saying them I would have used them for my own answer, even though none of them were the real reason. So without any other option at hand I decided to tell the truth, “For college money, Drill Sergeant!” He stared at me for a split second and during that time I felt a mixture of relief and terror before he asked me a follow up, “Why else did you join?” “No other reason, just the money, Drill Sergeant!” He said nothing else, and moved on to the next soldier. In the end 75% of our platoon was on the ground pushing and I don’t think I’ll ever know the logic behind whom he picked to keep standing, but what it did for me that morning was immeasurable. It was the first time that I remember telling the ugly truth and not feeling ashamed.
Basic training taught me honesty and discipline, two things I know I was lacking as a child. It also showed me a diverse group of people who hadn’t had the opportunities that I took for granted growing up in a middle class home. These factors worked together to motivate me towards becoming a schoolteacher, to pass on this understanding and to make a positive change in the community. Three years later I graduated from the University of Minnesota with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education, and a specialty in middle school science.
Now I stand at the doorway of officer school, having completed basic training and undergraduate school, I look at this as the start of the next level. If I want to lead in the classroom, if I want to be the inspiring teacher, the strong member of my community, the motivating force in my unit, there is no better way to learn this than Officer Candidate School.