Sunday, April 20, 2014

The smallest sorority in the world

It's been almost a year since my West Point class lost Jaimie. It was a stunning, heart wrenching moment for each of us when we learned of her death, but time has a way of marching on, of continuing its inexorable journey forward. Losing her all these years after graduation, when our friends still in uniform are senior officers who we don't expect to be in the direct line of fire while deployed, was different than when we lost Eric, Matt, Phil, Michael, Mark, Ian. There's a somber understanding that as lieutenants and captains, your friends are the ones on patrol; the ones manning the forward units. We thought we were past that; we had come through the killing years with irreplaceable losses but with fewer than some of the classes that followed us.

As with all sorrow, though, hope and love can bloom. Our entire class felt the loss, but inside the much smaller circle of women from the Class of '97, a seed was planted that has bloomed into something more. It began with flowers for the funeral, and continued with a dinner gathering in Washington, D.C. The camaraderie and the voices of support gained momentum, and we settled on a date to reconnect again, a mini-reunion of the women of '97. After months of anticipation, over the course of the weekend, 14 of the 94 women that graduated together got together in Raleigh to run, to celebrate, to laugh, to support each other, and to even get to know those with whom, up to this point, we had only shared the bonds of the Long Gray Line. 
L to R: Karen, Giselle, Dana, Julie, Rachael, Leah, Julie, Melissa, Heather, Ali, me, Heather & Christie
And Jason in the back - he had a few hours to see what it was like for FOUR YEARS for us, ha!
I've said for many years that as a veteran of the United States Army, I'm a member of the biggest fraternity in the world. Last weekend, though, I realized something far more powerful, and much closer to my heart: as a West Point woman, I'm a very proud member of the smallest sorority in the world. 

It is no secret that the young men and women who enter West Point are some of the brightest our country has to offer. Less often discussed is the fact that these are also some of the most competitive people you'll ever meet. That desire to compete and to win is heightened in the crucible of the cadet experience, further amplified amongst many of the women of the class who not only intend to prove themselves broadly, but within the smaller peer set of women. It was often a zero sum game; for someone to be the best, she had to do so at the expense of someone else. 

I'm not convinced that atmosphere is unique to West Point, but I cannot imagine that any other institution of higher learning had the ratio, the pressure, the culture of competitiveness quite like ours. It was hard just to make it, and frequently, we made it harder on each other. 

As we've aged, I think we've all grown into our own skin. We have become confident, successful women who measure our success not in others' failings; not in physical appearance; not in class rank. Our success lies in being the best versions of ourselves we can be, in striving everyday to be that better person. The strength of our character now shines in our support for each other, in our refusal to judge and our insistence on being each others' most vocal cheerleaders. 

We spent much of last weekend together laughing and telling stories from school, sharing the latest on our girlfriends who weren't there, and celebrating who we've each become. It was an energizing, affirming weekend like I've never had, and I'm sure I'm not alone when I say I wish we had done this years earlier. It's a catch 22 though, I think. Years ago, I don't know that we would've been in a place to understand why we're so important to each other. 

My friend Melissa summed it up perfectly when she said:
"We spent four years trying to be one of the guys, only to realize now that our strength lies in being one of the girls."
Jaimie will always be missed; the loss will always be felt. But with her passing, the West Point women of the Class of 1997 received the priceless gift of understanding just how important we are to each other. 
Heather, Giselle, Melissa, Ali, Julie, me and Rachael
Proudly wearing our shirts to remember our USMA '97 fallen
With Pride We Defend. 


  1. Great post!!! What an awesome tribute to Jamie it is that we have all rediscovered our unique bond! Thanks for sharing this, Amanda!!

  2. I am sad I was unable to be there! Thank you for your words!

  3. Thank you, so well stated. I feel like I am still "processing" that weekend. It was a really positive experience for everyone. I am sorry it took one of our own to get here, but glad we are making something positive out of losing Jaimie.
    Thank you again, Amanda. I know it killed you to not be in the marathon, but your support, encouragement, and sign making skills were a huge asset. So great to see you. #TRUTH (LOL)

  4. What a beautiful tribute to our fallen woman comrade. Thank you for reminding the women of the military academies to support one another. God Bless you ladies!
    USMA '89

  5. Wonderful to see your class ladies bonding too. It is SO valuable!! And I feel your loss of Jamie--that is so hard.
    Great article--love the quote "we spent years trying to be one of the guys when our strength lies in being one of the girls!" That is perfect. Love your blog too--inspires me to let go of fear and get my own going!! Best,
    USMA '94