(10/2011) This summer was arguably the most important summer of my life. For the past three years, the focus of my ROTC career has been on something called Leader Development and Assessment Course, or
LDAC for short. This course is a culmination of everything that a cadet has learned during his or her time in ROTC. It is a way for the Army to determine whether or not the cadet is ready to receive a commission as an officer in
the United States Army. LDAC, along with graduation from college, are the two mandatory requirements cadets must pass in order to enter the Army as officers. Cadets attend LDAC during the summer between their junior and senior
years of college.
This summer, it was finally my turn to fly out to Ft. Lewis, Washington to attend LDAC. Naturally, one can imagine the great deal of stress that accompanied the weeks, days, and hours preceding my
departure. I am sure I was quite a sight! The entire week before I left, I packed and repacked my two Army-issue duffel bags according to the packing list I had received. I wanted to make sure I had everything, because any item
that was on the packing list but not in a cadet’s luggage would result in a negative spot report. This would mean that the cadet incurred negative marks for the course. It also meant that the cadet would begin LDAC by making a
lousy first impression on the cadre there. And so for that entire week before LDAC I could be found cross-legged on my floor for hours, simply taking inventory of the gear in front of me. I checked and rechecked. I packed and
then packed again.
The night before I flew out, when I was finally completely and totally satisfied that I had forgotten nothing on the packing list, I placed all of my gear into those two green duffel bags of mine. I
nestled each item into the duffel bags just so. When I had finished packing, I carefully, albeit with shaky hand, wrote MULQUEEN in big, kindergarten-style block letters on the two bags.
Exhausted not just from the packing but also from the very thought that I was about to begin my summer assessment, I set my alarm for 4:30 in the morning. I settled into my covers and began the slow
process of unwinding my mind so that I could rest. What a difficult process it was! I counted sheep. I made myself a cup of warm milk. I even sang myself a lullaby! As soon as I felt that I would never fall asleep, I remembered
a trick that my brother had told me a few months before. He said that whenever he had difficulty falling asleep in Afghanistan he would start to pray the rosary, and then he would finally feel calm enough to sleep. I took his
advice, and he was right. My soul was finally peaceful enough to allow me to fall into a deep slumber.
Soon enough, however, it was "0 dark 30," and I shot out of the folds of my sheets with such ferocity that I actually startled myself. Every nerve in my body was tinged with readiness. Every fiber of
every muscle was prepared to engage this beast called LDAC and come out victorious. I barred my teeth in the mirror while I brushed them. I ambushed my dog on the staircase. I feasted on a piece of toast for breakfast the way a
lion would feast on his zebra prey. Outwardly, I was ready.
Inwardly, I was utterly terrified. I was nervous that I would fail. I was worried that my performance would be substandard. My father, ever-calm and always wise, looked at me and sensed that fear of
failure that I had tried to bury so deep inside. He hugged me and said simply, "I love you. Stop worrying. You’re going to do fine. I just know it."
With those words, I piled into the car along with my entire family. It was a short drive to the local airport, and soon enough the airline had checked me in. My family and I stood wordlessly before the
security checkpoint for a few moments. My brother extended his arms, and then my father followed. My mother stood smiling in front of me. She embraced me lovingly and then gave me a little nudge toward the metal detectors. I
walked haltingly toward the gate, glancing back a few times to make sure my family had not abandoned me. They stood steadfast, waving and smiling.
Once I made it through security and found my gate, I realized that I was actually a little excited to go to LDAC. I dreaded the evaluations and the tests, but I knew that I would have plenty of great
experiences there. I mean, who wouldn’t want to spend a month in the woods, sleeping under the stars? On top of the awesome things I would get to do at Ft. Lewis, I knew that I would get paid to be there. So ultimately, it was a
win-win situation. I just had to stay positive. With a smile on my face and trust in my heart, I boarded the plane.
Indeed, LDAC was an amazing experience for me. I liken it to my birth as an officer, because it was the place that my future career actually became real to me. I finally took ownership of my choice to
enter the Army, and I realized without a doubt that the Army is the place I belong.
Next month, I will continue the story of my LDAC experience, so stay-tuned for tales of triumph and tears.
Read other articles by Julia Mulqueen