Jan. 10, 2014
For more Western Front stories visit westernfrontonline.net - Twice-weekly student newspaper of Western Washington University
BELLINGHAM, Wash. -
by Alyssa Wilson, The Western Front
Bethany Graham knows what it's like to have a busy schedule. The Western senior wears many hats: student, track star, family member and friend. Recently, Graham added one more responsibility to her life, one that most people could not take on. In 2013, Graham joined the National Guard.
Graham is what the National Guard calls a "Civilian Solider": a soldier who continues to live a normal, civilian life as a student and a student-athlete.
After months of weighing the pros and cons, Graham officially committed to the National Guard in January 2013. Shortly after, Graham packed up and went to boot camp. The experience was hard, but rewarding, Graham said.
"In a lot of ways boot camp wasn't what I was expecting, and in others it was," Graham said. "You pretty much lose all freedoms while you're there. The only form of communication you have is mailing letters to people back home, but just accomplishing it and going through it was really the biggest reward."
Boot camp was located in Fort Jackson, S.C. where the weather is notoriously hot and humid. Every day started with a 5 a.m. wake-up call followed by a long, hard, busy and precisely scheduled day. This included physical training, 10 minutes to scarf down meals, weapon training, work activities and "grunt" work.
With merely an hour of personal time permitted each day, Graham said she typically used it for showering and laundry. Still, there was never time alone. No matter where she went, at least one other person had to join.
Good sleep was hard to come by. Two people would stay awake at night for an hour at a time before waking up the next two people for their "fire guard shift." Although Graham herself never really did anything wrong, punishments were done as an entire group. This resulted in a few unpleasant wake-up calls.
"Even if you did every single thing perfect, you couldn't avoid being yelled at," Graham said. "On multiple occasions, they came in at 1:30 or 3 a.m., woke up all 60 girls and had us do pushups in front of our bed."
As difficult as boot camp was, Graham never once thought of quitting, and she is pleased with the changes it brought her. She became more disciplined and now pays more attention to detail. Although the environment didn't make it easy, she still built good relationships, she said.
"Their goal is to stress you out and make you tired, so it's hard to bond," Graham said. "But I did make a few close friends that I still am in contact with."
After boot camp, Graham was sparked with a desire to travel and took an opportunity to backpack across Asia in fall 2013.
"My cousin and I had been wanting to take a big trip for a long time and backpacking is just kind of our style. It's cheaper and you get to see more if you're moving around all of those places," Graham said.
Graham has now returned to Western and is ready for winter quarter. Although she knows she will be busy, Graham knew that joining the military was the right choice.
"It was what I needed to do," said Graham, "I needed to try something new and I knew I would hate myself if I didn't do it. Years on, I would have looked back and I would have wished that I had."
Although she had to miss some training this fall, head coach Pee Wee Halsell is supportive in Graham's decision.
"It takes a special person to want to serve in the military; it's a big commitment, but it's an honorable commitment," Halsell said. "Our armed forces are very important, and I appreciate people wanting to do that."
Graham is known at Western for pole vaulting, but it hasn't always been her focus. She started gymnastics at the age of three and competed competitively for 13 years. During her junior year in high school, she broke her ankle, which ultimately ended her gymnastics career.
Luckily, after gymnastics she was able to find a new passion.
"[Pole vault] is the closest thing to gymnastics in track," Graham said. "One of my friends in high school actually talked me into it. I never had any intention of doing it because gymnastics was always my focus. But I fell in love with it."
After two years competing in pole vault in high school, she joined Western's track team and plays a positive role for the team, said teammate Elizabeth Knope.
"[Graham] is really motivated, unique and there's nobody like her on the team or anywhere else," Knope said. "She's fun to be around and really cares about everyone. She's really just an incredible person, teammate and a friend."
After graduating with a degree in kinesiology and pre-healthcare, Graham plans to continue her education at a technical college. From there, she wants to become an x-ray technician while simultaneously serving in the National Guard for the next five years.
Graham's teammates and coaches are confident that her future will be bright.
"She will do well in whatever she chooses to do because she's such a positive person and has so much great energy," teammate Miranda Lahman said.
"It'll be fun to see how she gets through this year and how she goes on to her career, as far as the military goes, and later in life," Halsell said. "It's just fun to see them improve, and I think she will put the time and effort into it, in both life and track."