Washington, DC

Many recent graduates struggle to find a sense of direction after college. But 22-year-old Natalie Lopez-Barnard, a commissioned ROTC second lieutenant, already has her immediate future mapped out. Now working as a recruiter with the Georgetown University ROTC, Lopez-Barnard plans to become an ordnance officer after leadership training this summer. Her job will be to maintain and control military matériel such as weapons, ammunition, vehicles, and equipment for the U.S. Army.

Lopez-Barnard entered the Army ROTC’s training program at Fordham University while studying psychology at Barnard and finished both programs about the same time. Her interest in psychology steered her toward the ROTC: “I was interested in learning how to perform under pressure, so I was drawn to sports psychology and helping people in stressful positions, which eventually led me to think about using my education in psychology to help enhance combat performance,” she says. After enrolling in the ROTC program her junior year, she began a grueling training regimen. “You learn land navigation, basic marksmanship, and basic infantry skills,” she says. “They design these training exercises to test how well you’ll do in combat situations. It’s challenging, in that you’re being trained to be responsible for people’s lives. They want leaders who won’t freeze under the gun.”

Juggling military responsibilities with the life of a student wasn’t easy. “It can be tough when your best friends across the hall are having a party, but you’ve got to do training drills until 4 a.m.,” says Lopez-Barnard. “Then you still have to do your schoolwork.” At times, she wondered if joining had been the right decision. In the end, though, she was happy with her choice. “I made a lot of friends and got a lot of support within the ROTC program,” she says. Still, Lopez-Barnard isn’t certain what the future holds. “In five years, I’d like to branch over into military intelligence and transporting ordnance, or maybe go back to psychology,” she says. “But at this point, I’m good with where I am.”

- Kathryn Hawkins
- photograph by Noah Sheldon

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