By Cary Shimek, UM News Service
MISSOULA – Hannah Schuler, an ROTC student majoring in accounting at the University of Montana, didn’t realize she made history last fall. That was when the Twin Falls, Idaho, native decided she had what it takes to serve in the U.S. Army infantry upon graduation.
She later learned she will become the first woman ever to commission into the infantry from UM. Her ROTC commissioning ceremony will be held May 12, and the next day she will graduate from UM during Commencement in the Adams Center.
Her decision makes her a pioneer for Griz Nation. The ban on women serving in the infantry and armor branches of the Army only ended in 2016, and females still make up less than 2% of such combat forces, according to the Army News Service.
“I think this trail has been blazed for me already by women who had the courage to take that first step,” Schuler said. “A lot of other women before me have done the hard part, and now I need to carry that momentum forward. And I’m going to do what I can for those who come after.
Schuler grew up recreating outdoors and comes from a military family. Her father was in the Army, and the men in her family served going all the way back to World War I.
“So it has been kind of cool to carry that on as a female in my family,” she said, “and I will become one of the first officers.”
Her outdoor interests led her to choose UM for college, with its proximity to Montana wilderness areas, and she quickly gravitated toward accounting in the College of Business.
Worried about taking on too much debt, she opted to join UM’s Reserve Officers’ Training Corps to pay for college. Many Army ROTC students earn a minor in military studies, have 100% of their tuition and fees provided, and receive a monthly stipend. In return they agree to a full-time or part-time service obligation in the U.S. Army, commissioning as a second lieutenant when they graduate. Service obligations can vary for those who want a lesser commitment, but Schuler was all in for the full four years. And it didn’t hurt that UM’s Grizzly Battalion is ranked among the top 20% of ROTC programs nationally.
The accounting major admits she will graduate with some minimal debt, but that was purposeful.
“I want some installment payments as a strategy to build my credit rating,” she laughs.
ROTC added a dynamic layer to Schuler’s university experience. Her activities included three-day FTXes, which are field training exercises in the wilds of Montana. (“It’s really fun,” she said. “We go into the field and run missions.”) As a first-year student, she joined a pistol team. (“My dad laughed about that because I wouldn’t touch a gun when I was a kid. And then I got a pistol for my 21st birthday.”) She also got to serve on the ROTC Boom Crew and help fire the sideline cannon when the football team scored in Washington-Grizzly Stadium. (“I got to meet some great people over four years – the closeness becomes like family.”)
When other students would return to their residence halls or apartments to study or binge Netflix, Schuler could be flying above the mountains of western Montana in a Chinook or Black Hawk helicopter. Then she and her fellow cadets would land to work on their navigation skills or deploy battalion tactics across a rugged landscape. Many a morning, she found herself running with her Grizzly Battalion along the Clark Fork in the pre-dawn dark.
At 5 feet, 3 inches tall, Schuler has a small frame, but she describes herself as “type A” with a tenacious streak. Over spring break, she was part of a team that hiked the Bataan Memorial Death March in White Sands, New Mexico. Described as 26 miles of high desert and pure perseverance, participants are invited to “embrace the suck … the situation is bad, but deal with it.”
“We did the walk with 25 to 35 pounds on our back,” she said. “As a team we didn’t think it was so bad, except the part that actually crossed sand. It was a great experience to see all the people who turned out to show their support.”
Schuler said ROTC was instrumental in helping her discover her own style of leadership. Last summer, an influential cadre – who ensures cadets are properly trained – pulled her aside to assure her she has much to offer as any of her male counterparts.
“Just knowing that and accepting that made me so much more comfortable,” she said. “I realized I have a unique opportunity as a woman to be in this. To me, being in leadership is a chance to influence just one person and make their life better. If I can be that positive push in somebody’s life, then that’s what is going to keep me going.”
Schuler’s positive ROTC experience offers just one example of why UM again this year earned a Gold ranking for being a Military Friendly School from MilitaryFriendly.com. More than 1,400 military-affiliated students attend UM, and two key administrators – President Seth Bodnar and Patrick Beckwith, director of the Military and Veteran Services Office – both graduated from West Point and currently serve in the Montana Army National Guard.
“We are trying to create an exceptional learning environment for our military and veteran students,” Beckwith said. “Students like Hannah are a core component of our UM identity, and we will go the extra mile to ensure they have the best chance to learn, grow and succeed. We wish Hannah all the best as she becomes the first female Griz to enter the Army infantry.”
Schuler said excitement is building as she closes in on her goal to graduate from UM.
“It’s been wild watching my friends in the business college get all these great job offers, but I know I have my service to my country to add on,” she said. “And it will be nice to have very low debt when I graduate. And I definitely have a job lined up!”
After graduation, she will have eight weeks before reporting for active duty in Fort Benning, Georgia, where she will complete infantry and basic officer leadership courses before transitioning on to different schools. She will go where the Army needs her, but her top two preferences include stationing in Italy or Germany.
After her four-year commitment, Schuler will evaluate her options depending on where she is in her life. That could include law school, an accounting career or a career military, and she wants a family at some point. But first she needs to put a graduation cap on her time at UM.
“I just learned so much about myself,” she said of her ROTC experience. “I learned so much about accountability and discipline. It was waking up for PT before class, leaving my peers to work out and then sitting in an accounting class like 40 minutes later.
“It taught me about cooperation, and how vital that is. I definitely feel set up for my future.”
Contact: Dave Kuntz, UM strategic communications director, 406-243-5659, firstname.lastname@example.org; Hannah Schuler, UM accounting and ROTC student, email@example.com.