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Meeting the challenge

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Army ROTC helps 2019 graduate find her way to success

Claudia Bacon in her uniform

Claudia Bacon, who graduated in June, is now an Army aviation officer.

Joining the Army never crossed Claudia Bacons mind until her senior year of high school in Winchester, Massachusetts. She decided to attend the University of Delaware and try the Army ROTC program. 

After that trial year, she fell in love. 

I didnt know what I wanted to do, but I was thinking Ill try out ROTC, no harm no foul, Bacon said. I got sucked in real fast, but I loved it. Its been one of the best decisions Ive made.

That decision had a key element: Would she commit to serve? After lots of thinking and long uneasy conversations with her family, Bacon decided to go all in. In exchange for her commitment to go on active duty, Bacon was awarded a scholarship, which paid for her tuition during her last three years, plus a monthly stipend. 

The decision truly changed her life. Bacon, a 2019 graduate who earned her degree in international relations, is now a second lieutenant aviation officer in the U.S. Army. She began training on June 6 at Fort Rucker in Alabama. 

It was not an easy journey to get to this point. As a first-year student, Bacon faced the typical challenges that most college students encounter. In addition to honing her time management skills and adjusting to college-level classes, she had lots of training and took additional classes to prepare for service. Thats already a lot, but Bacons competitive nature pushed her to strive for more.

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Army ROTC team members

Members of UD's Army ROTC Team Diesel celebrate after their first-place finish in the 4th Brigade Ranger Challenge in Virginia last October. In her senior year, Claudia Bacon was the team captain.

That same year, she tried out for a select group of Army ROTC members, Team Diesel, which competes in special competitions. She could barely finish a five-mile run and did not make the team.  

I honestly expected it, as I wasnt in great shape at all, Bacon said. I was fine with it at first, but I knew somewhere in me, I had the potential to be on that team. I wasnt naturally very good at running or lifting, but I did realize that I was competitive and I wasnt about letting lack of hard work be a reason for not achieving my goals.

She began to train harder than ever and made the team the next time around. She was a member during her sophomore and junior year. By senior year, Bacon was the team captain.

During her senior year, a typical day began with physical training at 5:30 a.m., with the other dozen members of Team Diesel, followed by military training, which included classes on Army logistics, operations and weapons. Then she had academic classes and homework. As team captain, Bacon was also responsible for developing the teams training and documenting any equipment needs as they prepared for their first competition, the Ranger Challenge.

Dubbed the varsity sport of ROTC, the 4th Brigade Ranger Challenge is an annual competition between other regional ROTC teams. The event took place on Oct. 20-21, 2018, at Fort Pickett in Blackstone, Virginia. UD team members surprised themselves by winning the competition.

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Army ROTC team members

Team Diesel, a select group of cadets from UDs Army ROTC program, at the Sandhurst Military Skills Competition at West Point, New York.

The teams training wasnt over yet, as the victory meant they would go on to compete in the Sandhurst Military Skills Competition in New York at West Point. The challenge is a 27-mile long course and includes a number of military obstacle events like grenade launching and rowboat exercises. On April 12-13, Team Diesel competed against ROTC teams from across the country that placed first in the various regional competitions, as well as some international teams. 

Although the team did not win, they should be proud of their performance, said Thomas Rieck, senior military science instructor and the teams coach. 

Claudia herself, shes an alpha type personality which we encourage all our cadets to be as future leaders in the military but shes definitely an A type among A types, Rieck said. Fostering fellowship and everything, and the camaraderie is half the battle and keeping morale up. I think she walked the balance very well. 

Bacon said Sandhurst was the most difficult thing she has ever done. She described it as taxing on both the body and the mind. But she was determined to finish and learned so much about herself in the process. 

I learned how far I can push myself, she said. I thought that I knew what pain was, but I actually didnt know how far I could take it. I got to a point where I thought I would be struggling, but I realized if you keep your head in the game, you keep your head down and you keep going, you really can keep going.

In that moment, Bacon said she also realized the true meaning of leadership. 

Ever since my first year on the team, I constantly heard, 'If you arent doing it for yourself, do it for the guy or girl sucking just as much next to you,' Bacon said. Anytime Im hurting, I dont look at quitting or slowing down as an option. You keep going because you care about your team, and you care about the blood, sweat and tears everyone of them have put into the team.

Bacon ranked second among the 50 team captains for her leadership. 

Aside from ROTC, Bacon also fell in love with CrossFit while at the University. She became a certified trainer and taught a few evening classes throughout the week at the Carpenter Sports Building. Bacon said she also enjoys cooking and trying new things. During the spring semester, she went skydiving and axe throwing for the first time.

Reflecting on her time at UD, Bacon said the ROTC program and her experience as a leader of the special team of cadets was the stepping stone to find the career of her dreams. She encourages all students to make the most of their college experience. 

College is one of the best places to meet people, Bacon said. I think meeting people can teach you a lot about yourself and about life in general. You never ever know who youll meet, so I think getting involved and just being outgoing and friendly and taking advantage of opportunities is definitely the most valuable thing I learned. 

Team Diesel 2018-19 Members

The 2019 team that competed in the 4th Brigade Ranger Challenge and the Sandhurst Military Skills Competition included: Claudia Bacon, Patrick Thomas, Matthew Daniels, Nick Layton, Lucas Partlow, Alex Laundree, Connor Shields, Luke Granbois, Matthew Chybicki, Lauren Gomez, Dylan Connors, Jake Campbell, Celena DeLara and Paul Giesing. For 2019-20, Partlow and Lundree will serve as co-captains for the team.

Article by Carlett Spike; photos by Kathy F. Atkinson and courtesy of Claudia Bacon

Published July 1, 2019

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Claudia Bacon, a 2019 graduate in international relations who is now an Army aviation officer, says joining Army ROTC was one of the best decisions of her UD career.
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