Name: Riannon Blaisdell-Black, ‘09
Major: International Studies
Minor: Italian Studies
Academics: Study abroad in Ferrara, Italy
Activities: Fitness instructor at Weinstein Recreation & Wellness Center
Training for the Shamrock Marathon

Tell me about your Richmond ROTC experience so far.

So far so good! I’ve had a very positive experience with Richmond ROTC. Within the unit, we’ve done some really cool training, my favorite of which was probably when we went to Fort Lee and rappelled off of their 50 foot tower with seats that we tied ourselves. I’ve also participated as a member of the Ranger Challenge team the past two years, which has been a lot of fun. 

What’s the Ranger Challenge?

The Ranger Challenge is an ROTC extracurricular activity in which a team of ten trains together to compete in a weekend long competition against other ROTC battalions around Virginia and North Carolina. Some of the competition events include a physical fitness test, basic rifle marksmanship, a grenade assault course, day and night land navigation and a 10K march in which we all are wearing 35 lb. rucksacks (rucksacks = backpacks). 

Wow. Tell us about some of your other ROTC experiences.

I also had the opportunity to train at the United States Military Academy this past summer. I spent almost two months at West Point training with the USMA cadets and had a really great time. I was able to shoot almost every weapon in the Army’s armory (including a tank!), slept outside in the woods and made friends that I know I will keep in touch with for a long time. 

Is it hard to balance the program with schoolwork?

It’s all about time management. Richmond provides a diverse selection of programs for students to be involved with and ROTC is one of these programs. If I were not involved with ROTC, I would be involved with some other on-campus club and would be managing my time much the same way that I am now. Being in ROTC is much like having a leadership position in any other organization or team, in that other people are relying on you to be present and to have your act together.  ROTC is a lot more physically demanding than many of the clubs on campus and attendance is mandatory, but it all boils down to finding and maintaining that balance between all of your commitments.    

How were you able to study abroad while participating in ROTC?

Though the Spider Battalion does a lot of valuable training during the year in order to prepare third year cadets for Leadership Development and Assessment Camp, the program fully supports cadets who desire to study abroad. I studied abroad in Ferrara, Italy this past spring, and it was not a problem with ROTC. I worked out on my own, completed the academic course online and still received my monthly stipend, which I used to travel all over Italy and Europe.   

What is it like being a female in the program?

I don’t really notice until we’re in the middle of the woods, there’s no port-a-potty in sight, and I’m out of toilet paper! 

What's the most difficult part of being involved with this program?

It is a continual learning process. The things that I found difficult freshman year are things that I can do now without any problem. I’m sure that the parts of the program that I find tough right now will be a whole lot easier this time next year after I’ve had some more training.  

What is the most rewarding part? 

I feel good about myself and the decision that I made to do ROTC. It’s rewarding to know that because of the Army, I am putting myself through school, paying my own bills, and will actually be buying a car this December, without financial help from my family. I don’t think many college students can say that.

Along with that, I’m proud to know that I am doing something good for not only myself, but also for my family and my country.   

What are your plans for the future?

I plan on going active-duty, but am still researching which branch of the Army I want to go into. I will commission within a day or two of graduation and after that I’ll go wherever the Army sends me!