Female ROTC Graduate Broke New Ground

Soldier becomes first woman to complete rigorous training in assault climbing

By Magazine Staff  |  Photos by John Coyle, '88, of Coyle Studios and courtesy of Christel Sacco, '11
Sacco climbing

Christel Sacco, ’11, reached the top of a cliff, looked up, and found herself gazing at a wall of ice. The soldier in front of her started climbing and lost both his ice picks in the wall. Sacco loaned him one of hers so he could climb up to collect his two picks, but he lost hers, too.

“He’s smoked and he’s tired. He’s a private. He’s almost the same rank as me,” said Sacco, an ROTC cadet at the time. Sacco volunteered to climb the ice.

“You’re going to let a chick go get your stuff for you?” the other soldiers teased the private.

Using just one ice pick, Sacco scaled the wall, collected all three of the other picks, and climbed down. When she got back to the bottom, the private couldn’t get his harness untied. Sacco untied it for him. “After that he kind of gave up his man card,” she said, “and I came out of my shell.”

It was a key moment for Sacco, who was trying to earn the soldiers’ respect as the first woman ever to participate in the Army’s advanced assault climbers course—a fast-paced, physically demanding training.

After excelling in a basic mountaineering course, Sacco was invited to take the course. She was honored—and nervous. Not only would she be the first woman to participate. She would also be the first ROTC cadet to take the course since it was started during World War II. She had to ask permission of Lieutenant Colonel Steven Carroll, chair of the military science department at Loyola, who forwarded her request up the chain of command to a two-star general.

With approvals and funding set, Sacco traveled to Vermont in February to meet her fellow trainees for the two-week course in mountain warfare.

Earning Respect

“The first day there was a huge elephant in the room,” she said. “I was the only cadet, the only girl, and the only potential officer.”

At Loyola, where the first women were admitted to ROTC in 1973, the female membership is about 20 percent. Of the 70 people eating in the chow hall that first day, Sacco was the only woman. She wasn’t nervous about being in the minority. “I was worried about passing, not getting injured, and keeping up with everyone.”

Sacco kept up—and on that day of ice climbing she earned new respect from her fellow soldiers. By the end of the two weeks, she had passed the course and mastered casualty evacuation, route planning, and how to ski in the military style.

“I learned to trust my equipment. I learned to trust my battle buddies,” she said. “They always teach us you have to know yourself, your enemy, and your terrain, and the terrain can be the most important.”

Because she completed the training, Sacco is now qualified to teach what she learned to other soldiers.

Prepared to Serve

This summer Sacco is celebrating her marriage to Second Lieutenant Chris Carmody, a 2010 graduate of Towson University who completed the ROTC program at Loyola.

Carmody proposed after his commissioning ceremony last May, belting out “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” on the patio in front of Alumni Memorial Chapel. The newlyweds will be stationed at Fort Carson in Colorado Springs, Col., where they will live with their German Shepherd, Kiowa.

In October Sacco will begin military intelligence school at Fort Huachuca in Arizona. Then she could be deployed as soon as fall 2012.

And, if she finds herself leading troops in the mountains of Afghanistan, she expects to be applying some of what she learned in Vermont.

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