When Madeline Wilcox enrolled in the Army ROTC program at Kansas University four years ago, women weren't allowed to be combat officers. So she planned to go into military intelligence, like her father before her.
But a few things changed on the way to graduation.
First, the Department of Defense lifted the ban on women in combat. Then, Wilcox so impressed her superiors with her leadership and athletic abilities they assigned her to be a field artillery officer. On Monday, she becomes the first female combat arms officer to be commissioned by KU ROTC under the military's new rules.
"I want to be the good leader that they've trained me to be … especially being in the field artillery branch as a woman," said Wilcox, 21, of Leavenworth. "The Army is trying to integrate women further. I want to be the positive example of why they're doing it."
Wilcox, who is earning a degree in political science, will actually be the second combat arms officer to be commissioned by KU ROTC. Carrie Lamm graduated from the program in 2001, when, before the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army allowed women in rear-echelon field artillery units.
"Madeline is the only one who's going to have all the opportunities within the field artillery branch," said Lt. Col. John Clark of the KU Department of Military Science. "She is not going to have a constrained career."
While field and air defense artillery are the only Army combat branches that women are currently eligible for, the Army plans to open the other arms commands (infantry and armor) to female officers by 2016.
KU's ROTC program is 27 percent female. While that number is not representative of the university as a whole, it is above the Army average of 15 percent. And Clark said the number of women enrolling in the program has been increasing.
Wilcox, who finished in the top 20 percent of ROTC cadets across the nation, is already a leader to aspiring female officers coming up behind her.
"She's inspiring some of the cadets in our program right now," Clark said. "There's one freshman in our program who wishes to be the first female infantry officer."
Wilcox isn't sure she'll make a career out of the military, but she plans to at least stay in the Army for the minimum of eight years required by her scholarship. At the end of June, she goes to Fort Sill in Lawton, Okla., to start her field artillery training.
Even though this isn't what she had in mind when she joined the program, Wilcox is proud to be the first female combat arms officer to graduate from KU since the rule changes.
"I don't see why women shouldn't be able to if they can meet the same standards as men to be in it," she said. "I think women are just as good of leaders as men. I think it's a really positive direction the Army is going."