by Andrew Blair
Teal Reynolds is living proof that some of the most rewarding experiences in life are the ones that require sacrifice.
Many collegians across the globe are still trying to figure out what to do after they graduate. Reynolds, a senior at Randolph-Macon College who plays on the women's basketball team, has no illusions. (pictured right, back row, third from right)
That's because she's engaged in R-MC's rigorous Army ROTC program as she readies herself to become a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army—and potentially step on a battlefield that offers no assurances when it comes to life and death.
As for the here and now, when the alarm clock blares each weekday morning before 5 a.m. that means it's off to physical training (PT) at the University of Richmond for Reynolds, specifically to continue to steel her mind, body and soul. Combining arduous physical activity with demanding classroom work and field training exercises, the ROTC program is designed to properly subject potential officers on the exacting demands of military service on many different levels.
All told, it acts as a significant separator that ultimately will be a factor in delineating the cadence, tone and structure of military duty from civilian life. For Reynolds, training started in the spring semester of her sophomore year, before she earned a two-and-a-half year ROTC scholarship as a junior.
Indeed, there is no mistaking Reynolds' intentions, especially when it comes to wanting to become a military intelligence officer with a branch detail in field artillery.
In addition to her training, Reynolds acts as the ROTC recruiting coordinator at Randolph-Macon. She readily testifies to both the challenges and rewards for those who want to look more closely at the ROTC program. Judging by the results, she's already become an ambassador for ROTC as the number of student cadets at a local level has more than doubled during her tenure over the past two years.
Reynolds is one of two women's basketball players who are a part of the ROTC program. The other is junior Leara Shumate, who is on a four-year ROTC college scholarship. Willing to embrace the discipline that Reynolds has displayed, Shumate requested that Reynolds serve as her mentor. Reynolds has been an inspirational influence according to Shumate.
"She is incredibly impressive, first of all," Shumate says. "She is determined. She perseveres through everything that comes her way with basketball and ROTC. She has an incredible GPA. She literally volunteers for everything that she can possibly do—and she can juggle it all. I am in awe of it, honestly."
Reynolds' dedication and perseverance has made it impossible for teammates, fellow students and cadets, as well as professors and superiors not to notice. So has the world. This summer, she was among a select few to be accepted into the Cultural Understanding Language Program (CULP).
Stationed in Latvia and working with NATO and other allies in Europe, she and her team solidified and sometimes helped establish the foundation of common ground between the U.S. and other counties on many fronts, including training with the remarkable Latvian military.
In today's perilous world when appearances are growing increasingly important and tenuous for leaders, especially for a country like Latvia that is situated in the Baltics bordering Russia, the NATO Saber Strike exercise not only provided joint-training but showed its former Soviet occupier that they stand ready.
"It was a show of force to Russia saying that, 'Yes, we are still training. We still know you're there, but just so you know, we're here, too,' " Reynolds explains.
In some ways, Reynolds was unsure what to expect when she arrived, but left ready to lead on many different levels. Plus, the experience signaled just one way that ROTC training takes a proverbial sledgehammer to preconceived limits, either real or imagined, shattering any barriers that might impede a soldier's progress.
Reynolds admits that the most grueling part of her preparation was advanced training conducted this past July and August at Fort Knox, Ky. There, she completed 21 straight days of field work, where all cadet's leadership skills were constantly evaluated in stressful environments. Challenges ranged from passing a rigorous physical fitness test to becoming proficient with an M-4 rifle to land navigation to tactical exercises, among other duties.
Reynolds took on a leadership role and flourished by dedicating herself to each assessment as vigorously as she does to all other parts of her life. Here, there are no grading curves. At the conclusion of the advanced camp evaluation process, she ranked among the top 15 percent of her platoon. Her reward? A sense of exhaustion combined with a healthy dose of satisfaction.
"It is the most exciting, yet excrucitating event that you could possibly go through," Reynolds says while managing a smile. "Every event was a test. You had to pass it. It really helps you test your limits and see where you're at not only as a cadet but in trying to be an officer. I think it really showed my development throughout the two years I've been with the program."
"It's not just a test—it's your fortitude. It's how you embody Army values. You were being tested on leadership; not your expertise in tactics alone."
Taken literally, being front and center is in her blood. Her family's military involvement span's five generations. Her father is a retired Air Force captain. Her grandfather served in the infantry during the Vietnam War and retired as a command sergeant major, which is one of the highest non-commissioned officer levels in the Army.
There have been other transformative moments in sharpening her call to military service. Reynolds grew up in the northern Virginia town of Sterling. As a kindergartner, she still remembers sitting at the kitchen table watching as the senseless 9/11 attacks unfolded in New York and eerily closer to home at the Pentagon. Admittedly, the tragedies had an impact on her decision to be a player in defending freedom.
Less than 15 years later, she stepped onto the campus of Randolph-Macon for her first year of college, emboldened with the belief that a future in the military awaited. Moreover, she'd been recruited to play basketball at some Division II schools, but loved Randolph-Macon's cozy college atmosphere and the level of personal attention everywhere she turned at the Division III institution with an enrollment of a little more than 1,400 students.
"I liked the campus and [am] not just a number," says Reynolds, who is on an Army ROTC scholarship. "I really enjoy the small class sizes and I know my professors very well and they know me. I like the size and am still meeting new people."
The school's ROTC Army affiliation signaled an extension of her career goals. A political science major, she's excelled in the classroom on many fronts and aided in the research on a professor's book on homeland security. You know, just the stuff of any other college student.
On the hardwood, the ideals of sacrificing for others, being a good teammate, engaging in active listening, demanding more of yourself and others than either thought conceivable, have translated well into making her a glue-type player that every successful team needs. In many ways, playing college basketball and going through the ROTC program has represented a win-win for Reynolds, a 5-9 guard.
"It definitely keeps you in shape, but also tests leadership," Reynolds says in describing some of the benefits. "I am a leader off and on the court and I think it definitely shows just how you build a team because your squad or your platoon are a team. You want everything and everyone to be cohesive. You want to train so that you are ready to deploy. Through basketball I learned the 'team' mindset. You're a team and I think [ROTC] has really helped me continue to build that."
Her presence consistently impacts and inspires her teammates and coaches, including the Yellow Jackets' legendary head coach Carroll LaHaye, who will enter her 36th year at the helm of the program this season.
"She has a lot of different qualities that we really try to take advantage of," LaHaye says. "I believe her experiences with ROTC—and all of the things that she's taken advantage of within that program—comes out on the court. One of those is her desire to be the best teammate that she can be. You can't ask for more than that."
Reynolds is the antitheses of a statistics-driven player, instead embracing roles that might not show up in a box score, but are nonetheless conducive to winning.
"Sometimes that is difficult for players to understand," LaHaye quickly emphasizes. "They feel like statistics is how they get their name and how people value them—everything. At the collegiate level, that couldn't be further from the truth. I think Teal realizes and embodies that."
LaHaye notes that both Reynolds' and Shumate's ability to balance team, troops and textbooks has been an invaluable asset to the women's basketball program in many ways, seen and unseen.
"Together, the two of them have been great examples for the entire team over the last three years," says. "Each one of them has brought their own personalities into the program, but I don't think any of our team totally understands what sacrifices those two make to be in ROTC and a student-athlete because I think unless you're involved in that lifestyle, you have no idea about the sacrifices they have made for her three years."
For all of her preparation, Reynolds knows that when it comes to being commissioned and deployed, some things can't be planned for. That said, she hasn't stretched her very being to the breaking point on a whim. Reynolds acknowledges that after her Basic Officer Leadership Course (BOLC), she could be sent anywhere in the world based on the needs of the Army.
Reynolds, however, knows that she'll be ready and says she is not only unafraid but "really excited." Even if it means engaging the enemy?
"If necessary, yes," Reynolds allows. "It's that show of force—we have trained so well to do what we have to do that I want to be a part of it."
She latched a portion of her soul onto the challenges and sense of uncertainty that awaits. Indeed, being in ROTC has been a game-changer for Reynolds in many different ways, noting the bond of relationship-building and selflessness that have accompanied her service.
"Even though the Army is huge, it's a small Army," Reynolds says. "You just keep building up networks. The second thing about it is you know something is bigger than yourself and you're able to serve. I wouldn't have these opportunities, like going to Latvia as a part of CULP."
Reynolds has promised the Army eight years of service after graduation. Prior to that, some unfinished business remains. Reynolds wants to help stoke the women's basketball program to an Old Dominion Athletic Conference title and back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2014. From there, as Reynolds can attest, anything is possible once opportunity is present.
Even a national championship?
"That's the plan," Reynolds says.
Randolph-Macon's Reynolds Readying for Next Move
by Andrew Blair