U.S. Army Cadet Corporal Laura Hanshaw pictured at her graduation from U.S. Army Cadet Ranger School in Kentucky. Hanshaw will be attending New Mexico Military Institute in Roswell this school year. Courtesy photo.
By Sheridan Block
The military is not a path many teenagers think of when asked about their futures, but for one Ouray local, it's her dream.
Fourteen-year-old Laura Hanshaw has spent the last year and a half pursuing a future in the military. Wanting to push herself physically and mentally, she took part in Basic Cadet Training last summer, which only whet her appetite for the military lifestyle.
"I wanted to do the hardest thing and I felt like I was born to do this," she said.
Now newly named U.S. Army Cadet Corporal Hanshaw recently returned from the USAC Ranger School at Forest Hill Station in Millersburg, Ky. The two-course, six-week program gave students a realistic taste of the army lifestyle, which Hanshaw said made it more difficult.
Cadets learned how to strategize and execute daily missions. Each day Hanshaw and her unit were given a mission to retrieve a motivational item. As a team, the unit analyzed a photograph of the hidden object and planned out where and how to find it. Missions were executed before 2200 (10 p.m.).
For Hanshaw, the biggest challenge was a lack of sleep. Cadets were expected to get one to two hours of sleep each night while performing at 100 percent capacity the next day.
"After a while you just got so busy you just ignored it," she said. "You have too much to do to even think about eating or sleeping."
Despite the difficulties, Hanshaw pushed through and graduated from the program. Of the 15 participants aged 16 to 18, Hanshaw was the youngest (at age 13) in the group and the first female ever to graduate from the cadet program. During peer evaluations at the end of the six weeks, she was voted by her unit as the "Most Hardcore."
One accomplishment Hanshaw was especially proud of was changing the way her peers see women in the military. Even though she was the only female in the unit, she was not treated any differently and was trusted by her battle partners.
"I'm incredibly proud," said her father, Doug Hanshaw. "She absolutely held her own and learned a lot about herself and working as a team. She came back smarter, stronger and tougher."
As many parents would, Doug said he had some trepidation about her passion and pursuing of a military lifestyle, especially as she is female. And while her great-grandfathers and paternal grandfather were involved in the Army and Merchant Marines, her father remains curious as to why she began expressing an interest in the military a year and a half ago.
"We didn't see this coming in the great scheme of things," he said. "She's willing to work for this and it's my privilege to support her as she explores who she is."
Hanshaw will be entering high school this coming school year, attending the New Mexico Military Institute in Roswell, N.M. The well-recognized school is famous for its notable alumni, including ABC News anchor Sam Donaldson, actor Owen Wilson and former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach.
"A lot can happen in four years. NMMI will give her an excellent foundation for any career she pursues," said Doug.
Though enlisting is still several years away, Hanshaw said she is definitely interested in pursuing a career with the U.S. Army. It's her goal to be the first female Army Ranger, an elite infantry unit of the military branch.
The position has been closed to women due to the 1994 Combat Exclusion Rule that prevented women from serving in "assignments to units below the brigade level whose primary mission is to engage in direct combat on the ground." However, in January former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta repealed the rule and women may be allowed to enter Ranger School as soon as 2015.
"I always felt like I was born to do something different," said Hanshaw. "I was just hungry for the military lifestyle. I absolutely love it, I can't imagine myself doing anything different."