Shannon Martin is about to make history at Mercer University.
The senior biology major will soon be on the front lines as the school’s first female ROTC graduate to enter into a combat arms branch of the U.S. Army.
Martin attended high school in Mooresville, North Carolina, where she was a goalie on the lacrosse team. Her school didn’t offer JROTC, but she wanted to participate in college to follow in the footsteps of her grandfathers, who served in the Navy and the Marines.
She had a national ROTC scholarship to the University of North Carolina, but the offer of a lacrosse scholarship to Mercer made her change her mind. Later, she was able to switch over to a four-year ROTC scholarship at Mercer.
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After her freshman year, she realized her heart was more into ROTC, and she said goodbye to lacrosse.
“Everything I was talking about was always ROTC,” Martin said. “It’s kind of a team atmosphere. That was what I was looking for when I joined lacrosse, but I found it in ROTC.”
The Army opened up all its branches to women in April 2016, but no female cadets at Mercer volunteered last year, said Sgt. 1st Class Benjamin Jones, the Mercer ROTC military science instructor. Many of them had already decided on their branch preferences when they found out about the new option.
Combat arms includes air defense artillery, aviation, engineers, field artillery, infantry and special operations forces, and armor. Martin said she volunteered for branch detail, which sends lieutenants to branches that need them, knowing that she would most likely be assigned to combat arms.
As an armor officer, she will be on the battlefield in a tank or cavalry/forward reconnaissance vehicle, Jones said.
“It’s kind of a big deal. ... Not many women have gone this route so far,” Jones said. “There are more and more every year, but she is the first coming from Mercer. I see (Martin) succeeding and having some fun while she’s doing it. She’s about what’s doing right and doing her part for the nation.”
Martin has known some remarkable women who wanted to go into combat arms but didn’t have the opportunity. “The Army just needed to catch up,” she said. She’s willing and able to do this work, and by doing so, she’ll keep other cadets from being placed in positions they don’t want.
As Martin’s ROTC instructor for the past two years, Jones wasn’t at all surprised that his outgoing, outspoken student chose that route. Her parents, Ed and Kathleen, are “nervous but supportive,” and they have done a lot of research to make sure they understand what her role will be, Martin said.
Before combat arms was open to her, Martin was looking at military intelligence or medical service. She’s already doing intelligence work for her ROTC battalion. Medical school is in her plans for the future, and she’s interested in trauma surgery. In addition, she works 30 hours a week at Houston Medical Center, where she is in charge of the emergency room scribes.
Ultimately, she decided that combat arms was the place where she could serve her country best.
“It’s the people on the front lines that are directly affecting change,” Martin said. “I’m just really excited to start, and I’m honored that I’m going to be one of the first female combat officers.”
Martin will be commissioned as a second lieutenant on May 12, the day before Mercer’s commencement. Soon after graduation, she will report to Fort Benning in Columbus to train for six months or longer and then receive her official post.
Her tentative plan is to go to medical school after she finishes her contract and then continue serving in the Army.