Like any high school senior, Madison Mills spent last year trying to figure out what she would do after donning a cap and gown.
“She would stop by my room to visit occasionally when we both had free time, and it was fun to watch her go through that process,” her teacher Karen Guthrie said. “It’s a tricky time in life when a student is looking at what they want to do on their first step ‘out of the door’ of high school education into their adult life.”
Mills, a CHS cheerleader, had never considered a career in the military; no one in her family has served in the armed forces. But during an archery P.E. unit set up by U.S. Army recruiters, she would have a life-changing conversation.
“I thought it was really cool,” she said. “I talked to the recruiter and he made it seem like a good opportunity to serve our country.”
Mills said Guthrie was supportive in her decision making. “She told me it would be hard,” Mills said. “But she said quitting isn’t like me.”
So after graduation, Mills would trade her pom poms for kevlar and camo as she began the path to becoming a soldier.
Her basic training included male and female soldiers. “There was more females than I expected, so it was pretty cool,” Mills said. “Sometimes it was different when the males were there, they would volunteer for the hard tasks. Maybe they thought she can’t do it, but I still did it anyway.”
Mills pursued a career as an 88M, a motor transport operator. As an 88M, Mills will supervise and operate wheeled vehicles over all types of terrain to safely transport cargo, troops and provide advanced mobility on all missions. They manage loading, unloading and report any vehicle problems or damage.
In combat scenarios, motor transport can be a dangerous job to have. Truck driving ranks seventh on the list of the top 25 most dangerous occupations.
“I drive humvees and all types of trucks,” Mills explained. “At AIT [advanced individual training], they also help you learn more about convoys and what to do when you’re in combat.”
During basic training, recruits did a lot, including shooting M4 rifles, learning core Army values and completing obstacle courses.
Though Mills said the obstacles were challenging, it was one of her favorite parts.
The “slide for life” obstacle features a 30-foot tower at one end and a 10-foot tower at the other. In between is a 200-foot long rope. Recruits need to use the rope to get from the higher tower to the lower. The obstacle used to only be completed one way - dangling below the rope and using your arms to swing forward until reaching the other side.
In 1977, a student decided to go down head first, laying on the rope with one leg on either side and pulling himself down the rope until reaching the end. This was the manner Mills chose to attack the challenging obstacle, and she was the first female in her unit to successfully maneuver it. Even some of the men chose the easier method.
After 10 weeks of basic training and seven weeks of AIT, Mills was ready to be sent to her unit in Audubon.
With the option of ROTC during college, Mills decided to go in the Army Reserves so she can have options for the future. She could choose to go active duty Army and stay as an enlisted Soldier, or going to college would give her the option to become an officer. Right now, she’s focused on personal improvement.
“I’m awfully proud of her thought process and how she worked through choosing the best path for herself,” Guthrie said. “And I love the fact that I was able to be here to listen as she figured out how she wanted to fit into the world after high school by becoming a productive member of that society. It’s one of the best benefits of teaching high school students.”