Sisterhood meets brotherhood

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JMU Sigma Kappa sister adds the Army to her résumé

Story | Caroline Alkire

Laurie Freeborn woke up one morning with a spontaneous idea. The petite, 5-foot-1-inch, 105-pound blonde freshman made a decision that shocked everyone, including her sorority sisters in the Sigma Kappa sorority.

“I got up that morning and thought to myself, ‘I’m going to go down to the recruiters office today and join the Army,’” Freeborn, now a sophomore psychology major, says.

Her announcement to join the Army Reserve was met with nothing but support from her friends, family and sorority sisters. To join, Freeborn had to leave school for the Fall 2014 semester — the first half of her sophomore year — and complete Basic and Advanced Individual Training training at Fort Leonard Wood, a military base in Missouri.

Training for the Reserve was unlike anything Freeborn had ever experienced. Her ultimate goal is to eventually become an army police officer, which is one of the hardest positions to train for.

Her entire company would wake up everyday at 4:30 a.m. and do physical training until 6 or 7 a.m. For the rest of the day she would either be doing teamwork drills, rifle drills or grenade drills, depending on which phase of training the company was at.

The first nine weeks of training is known as basic training. Many times, this is considered the hardest phase. The trainees must drop and do pushups, and are disciplined heavily. Basic training challenges prospective soldiers physically and mentally.

“Being part of the army is like being a part of a different culture,” Freeborn says. “I always have a permanent smile on my face no matter what I’m doing, so they were constantly yelling at me, telling me to drop and give them pushups because I couldn’t stop smiling.”

Jennifer Polanco, a junior psychology major at Rutgers University, was Freeborn’s best friend and bunkmate at Fort Leonard Wood, and the only other sorority girl — a sister of Omega Phi Beta, a multicultural sorority — in their company. She describes training as “being told what to do, and how to do it 24 hours a day.” She and Freeborn bonded during their five and a half months at Fort Leonard Wood.

“Freeborn was always trying to beat me,” Polanca says. “At first I didn’t think she was going to make it because she was so little, but she is definitely one of the toughest girls out there. She was my competition, and always made me work harder. She is so brave and determined and never quit.”

At the end of basic training, the entire company must complete something similar to a giant obstacle course that encompasses everything the new soldiers have learned.

Freeborn had to crawl on her stomach to avoid real open fire. The trainees must also complete a ten-mile march with 60-pound packs strapped to their backs. When they were done, they sat around a bonfire to receive their value packs, signifying that they had passed training and were now part of the Army.

“It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, and I had the worst blisters of my life from the march,” Freeborn says. “I bled through two pairs of socks and my combat boots. At the ceremony right after that, I finally got my value pack. I made it. It was the proudest moment of my life, and in that the moment I knew I had made the right decision.”

Freeborn’s ambition to join the army stems from her family. Her grandfather, Don Iminski, is retired from the Army and her father, David Freeborn, was a master sergeant military police officer who was also involved in special operations. The military also has benefits, and pays for the education of its participants. Freeborn, however, knows that she would have joined the Army Reserve even without the benefits.

Freeborn is back at JMU this semester, but basic training has made her a different person than when she left. She has a newfound interest in politics, and she thinks about her actions more than she used to. Being a private first class (E-3) in the Army Reserve also means she can be deployed at anytime.

“I am totally in love with JMU,” she says. “But I would be content if I was deployed tomorrow. It is such an honor to serve the country that has served me so well.”

Freeborn is currently in the process of switching over to the Army National Guard, because she was offered a full ride scholarship for Reserve Officers’ Training Corps for the next two years. Freeborn will be involved in Simultaneous Membership Program with ROTC, meaning she is in the National Guard and drills one weekend out of each month. She plans to commit to the Guaranteed Reserve Forces Duty scholarship, meaning she will be in the National Guard for eight years after she graduates.

Whether Freeborn is throwing grenades in Missouri or attending mixers in Harrisonburg, her determination and drive to succeed never leave her. She feels blessed to be able to serve her country and proud that she made it through training.

“I got made fun of all the time for being a tiny little blonde chick, and it didn’t help that I was a cheerleader in high school and a sorority girl in college,” Freeborn says. “I stood out, but it made me want to prove everyone else wrong. I ended up finishing third highest female in my company for physical training, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.” 

Photography | Hannah Peterson