Squadron commanding officer reflects on her time in the Corps
Jessica Simmons ’07
Can I do this?
That was the first thought I had one Sunday morning in August 2003. I was standing in a room with 24 other people who were bound to become some of my best friends. My only other clear, solid recollection was of my 1st Sergeant walking into the room and telling us all to give him and the Corps of Cadets four years. Next, the yelling commenced and so began my fish year in the Corps.
Can I do this? was still the first thought I had in August of 2006, but this time it was before I introduced myself as the commanding officer of Squadron 3 to a group of my new freshmen’s parents.
People always ask me if it is a different experience being a female commander in the Corps of Cadets. In previous encounters with this question, I would become frustrated and say, “No.” Upon self-reflection, I will now say, “Yes, it is different.” I feel like I am fortunate to experience the differences. My male commander counterparts probably have not been able to meet as many interesting Aggies as I have, they probably have not been able to represent the Corps of Cadets at university functions since people want to see what I jokingly refer to as “the token female cadet,” and they probably have not been able to mentor as many cadets outside of their outfit as I have.
No matter where I go, other female cadets are watching me, just like I watched successful women in the Corps when I was an underclassman. These experiences make being the only female commander different, but my responsibilities to my outfit are the same.
The traditions of loyalty, honor, respect and camaraderie are still, in my opinion, alive and well in today’s Corps. It is evident in the amount of cadets serving the university off the Quad in other student organizations, the number of male cadets who give up their seat on a campus bus, and how often cadets find time in their busy schedules to just hang out with buddies at night to cultivate lasting friendships.
The Corps also has a tradition to continually train new leaders. This is generally done in a way that references previous experiences with training. I sometimes think that new ideas to approach this task are never explored because there is always a precedent people feel they must follow.
My advantage to being a female commander is that there is no precedent I specifically have to follow. This has opened a door to a new training philosophy in Squadron 3 that does not rely solely on what people before me have done, but it encourages us to look at what our freshmen need. Putting people first and serving others is what, I believe, enabled my outfit to differentiate ourselves from other outfits and be the recipient of the inaugural Robert M. Gates Award for Public Service.
The lesson of service to others is singularly the greatest lesson the Corps of Cadets has taught me and clearly one that I know will carry me beyond the confines of the Quad at Texas A&M.
I distinctly remember sitting in my room after my fish year, staring at what I once referred to as a “Me Wall” which displayed plaques and awards from high school and college. I thought about what I had just gone through as a fish in the Corps and how I had learned to follow and put the needs of my buddies and my outfit before my own.
It was that moment that I felt the lesson of serving others as a method of leadership more strongly than any other time in my life. I took down all my awards and placed pictures of friends in their place and said to myself, “People are what matter most.” I would not have had this revelation without my experience in the Corps. This is the statement that has driven my leadership in the outfit as a 1st Sergeant and this year as the commanding officer.
It is also the driver for my life-long vision of serving children at an orphanage in Guatemala called Casa Bernabe. I have spent four weeks for the past four summers at this orphanage, serving the children as well as the workers. Although I can’t speak Spanish, it hasn’t stopped me from loving the children as well as teaching a few of them how to say, “Gig “Em!”
Serving these children is my passion, and as I begin my life after college, my ultimate goal is to develop a financial support system for them stateside. I question myself sometimes on whether or not I can actually fulfill this dream, but my experience in the Corps of Cadets has taught me that the answer to this question is always, “Yes.”