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Learning to advocate for herself through ROTC

Two side-by-side images of women

Last summer, the nonprofit StoryCorps hosted an oral history project here in Wyoming in which veterans and their families recorded honest and personal stories about their military experience. We’re grateful to share those conversations now with our listeners.

Today, we hear from 19-year-old Gisele Girones as she talks about growing her confidence through ROTC, her experience as one of the only female cadets in Wyoming, and the importance of advocating for other women in the military.

Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. 

Morgan Zipf-Meister:  My name is Morgan Zipf-Meister. I'm 39 years old. I am in Brooklyn, New York, and today I am interviewing Gisele.

Gisele Girones: Hi, my name is Gisele Girones. I am 19 years old. I am currently in Laramie, Wyoming.

MZ: You had mentioned to me earlier that you're in the ROTC (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps).

GG: Yes, ma'am. So I did a semester of college and I joined ROTC super last minute as a way to sort of, like, make friends. I started school during COVID and so most things were closed. ROTC was one of the only in person things on campus and so I kind of joined it last minute and then I kind of fell in love with it, to be honest.

MZ: So did you always have any kind of inkling that you might want to serve?

GG: I've had problems with my eyesight. Also in high school, I didn't have a lot of self confidence, and so I didn't think the military would be for me. However, I joined ROTC and I did a semester, and the personal growth I experienced there was unmatched and unlike anything I'd ever experienced.

The best thing I've ever received out of the program was this summer, I was able to spend three months in Jordan. It's called the DOD (Department of Defense) Strategic Language Program. So they select ROTC cadets who they think have the capability for learning a language. I was lucky enough to be selected for Arabic, and so for the last three months I studied at a university in Amman.

MZ: What was your favorite thing about going abroad or being in that area of the world?

GG: It was amazing, ma’am. I joined an all-female hiking group because the outdoors is my passion. And that was incredible, just getting to connect with all of these, like, super badass Arab women. They were incredible and they taught me a lot about the world, about love, about life. Some of the best kind of character lessons I've ever had came from those women on our hikes.

MZ: So cool. My mind just sort of starts to wander to the women in the military experience.

GG: It's not always been easy, truthfully. For a while, I was the only cadet, one of the only female cadets, in the whole state of Wyoming. Serving in the Guard. I was one of two and then I became one of three. I'm currently in leadership in ROTC, and I am the only female in leadership. And so sometimes that can be kind of difficult. However, I am very grateful for my position, because I feel like I can advocate for women more so for my position. I've always believed that the responsibility of women in leadership is to support and advocate for other women. That's one thing I've tried to do. I believe I'm strong and resilient, and I think I can take, I guess, a bit more of a beating. And so I wish to kind of break through the barrier and make it possible for other young girls.

MZ: I'm wondering if there was anything different than what you imagined before you joined the ROTC and the Guard.

GG: I guess it was different in that I didn't think I would find as much of the family as I did. The females in ROTC, I think, particularly become very close. One of my best friends in the program became a cadet in the National Guard at the same time as me, and so for a while we were kind of two of the three females in the National Guard together. And so we served in the same unit, in the same section, under the same incredible female leadership. And so we were both able to experience just this incredible amount of growth and just this really deep connection I've never really had with anyone else. Her name is Shelby. She's incredible.

And then I am currently in leadership in ROTC. I'm Alpha Company Commander and my other best friend in the program, his name is Connor, he’s Bravo Company Commander. And initially, we, funnily enough, we didn't get along. Last year, he complained, and he thought I was given a few opportunities because of my gender, more so than my merits. After working together this semester, he came up to me and apologized and said that wasn't true at all. And since then, he's become like my brother.

ROTC, truthfully, has changed my life. Growing up, I was always very timid, very quiet. It's helped me advocate for myself.

Noa was born in Virginia Beach, VA, and grew up with a love of storytelling. From hosting local open mic nights to participating in creative writing workshops at college, Noa believes in the power of stories to unsettle our perspectives and spark empathy. With strong interests in environmental studies and the history of the American West, she could not be more excited and grateful to work with Wyoming Public Media.
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