Medicine or the military? Second Lieutenant Kacie Oliver ’21 plans to find room for both in her life.
2LT Oliver – she was commissioned at Siena in September – was originally a pre-med major in the College’s prestigious Albany Med program when she enrolled as a freshman. But inspired by the examples of family members who served in uniform and her own passion for science, she made a career path change and joined the College’s ROTC program her junior year.
“I always knew I wanted to be in medicine, but I also want to serve my country,” she said.
There was the possibility she could serve as a military physician or medic, but another option fired her imagination. She’s putting her plans for medical education on hold and will soon enter flight school at Fort Rucker in Alabama to learn how to fly rotary aircraft such as Blackhawk, Apache and Chinook helicopters. After two years of flight training, she will commit 10 years of her life to serving on active duty in the U.S. Army. After that? Perhaps trading her olive green military uniform for the white coat of medical or nursing school.
"I'm still so young and figured that branching outside of my comfort zone to explore new passions may allow for self-growth that may benefit me in my future,” she explained. “I definitely want to get back to medicine in the future, though, maybe as a nurse or PA.”
Flight school is not really a huge jump for Oliver, when you think about it.
“I’m very science-oriented, so I was interested in learning about the physics of flight,” she explained. “I also admire the Army aviation branch slogan ‘Above the Best.’ It’s a powerful and prideful message about supporting from above the men and women serving in the ground forces.”
Oliver said ROTC gave her a lot of confidence to pursue her goals, and she appreciated the support among fellow cadets within the challenging and competitive environment.
“There is definitely a strong sense of camaraderie in ROTC,” she said. “You learn to believe in yourself and push yourself to succeed even though you know it will be hard.”
The competitive, male-dominated world of flight school shouldn’t prove an issue for Oliver. She aced the entrance exam, and Master Sergeant Bradley Hecker of Siena’s ROTC said her performance in the program was outstanding, and she ranked among the best ROTC cadets nationwide.
“Her performance indicates an ambition for excellence, and she consistently demonstrates the capacity for overcoming challenges,” he said. “She makes it easy to accept the fact that there are no male officers and female officers. There are only officers.”
Upon graduation, Oliver received Thomas J. Bergin ’56 Memorial Award, the USAA Award, and the Siena Presidential Leadership sabre, and was named a Distinguished Military Graduate.
Women are still fairly new to helicopter flight in the Army – the schools were gender integrated in 1993, and there are still only three or four women in each flight school class of 50. Combat units weren’t open to women until 2015, and Oliver is aware that she may serve in combat at some point during her military career.
When she gets her wings, she will be promoted to first lieutenant. Serving in the military is a family tradition: her father’s father served in the Marines during the Korean War, and her mother’s father served in the Air Force Reserves.
“The passion for service runs in our family.”
Oliver completed her ROTC training at Fort Knox in Kentucky this summer after receiving her B.S. in biology (magna cum laude) from Siena. Should she decide to return to her pursuit of a medical career, Adam Mason, Ph.D., associate professor of biology, foresees success in that area as well.
“Kacie was always exceptionally engaged in all her class activities and would frequently stop me to ask in-depth questions about the material,” said Mason. “Her questions helped all the students since they made lectures more interesting and engaging for everyone. She is a very mature and focused young woman who clearly has a passion for both medicine and for helping people.”