At 4:30 a.m. on the button the bullhorn blows. She jumps out of bed and thinks to herself, “I have to get dressed, but wait I already am!” She throws on her shoes and lines up outside with the 56 other girls that she shares a room with. In formation they run five miles before the sun even lets off its faintest ray of daylight. Sweaty and out of breath she and her 56 roommates pile in the cafeteria where they eat what they can get their hands on, and it’s definitely not Mom’s home cooking. After a little grub, she heads back to the showers where once again as a group, they shower. Between breakfast and 7: 30 a.m. she has one hour to get ready for class. At 7:30 a.m. she lines up outside of her room where she is picked up by her drill sergeant and marches to class in unison with her classmates.
The life of this 20-year-old Cabrini junior, Lydia Amankwah, is not what most would call average. She is in the Army. “It happened by chance. It’s actually funny because the recruiter called my house looking for my brother, but he wasn’t home so I asked him to tell me about the reserves,” explains Amankwah. “I ended up enlisting and my brother went off to Ohio State. It’s funny how things turn out.”
In May of last year she set out for Fort Jackson, SC, where she received her basic training and then went onto Ft. Sam Houston, San Antonio, Texas, where she completed 10 weeks of Advanced Individual Training (ADT) to train to become a medical specialist.
“Boot camp is not like what they show on TV. It was fun. I made a lot of great friends. We were a team. Drill sergeants were not spitting in your face and screaming at you every five seconds, like the military is mostly portrayed. They were like our fathers. They talked to us and listened.” Amankwah entered the Army weighing 179 pounds now she is a satisfied 149 pounds. “It was challenging both mentally and physically, but I have never been in better shape. I had to run five miles a day and I am not one to be running,” she said.
“We were in class. A lot of people were crying. I just couldn’t understand why anyone would do that. It was so sad,” Amankwah recalls of the tragic events that took place on Sept. 11, 2001. After that happened, the base that Amankwah was stationed at in Texas, was on high alert lockdown. She was not allowed to leave post and had to show ID on the base. She had no civilian privileges. Her unit was activated and had to be prepared to go to war. “Normally on the weekends we were able to go out and shop. We could wear street clothes as opposed to our BDUs (Battle Dress Uniforms). On lockdown we had to be dressed in our fatigues at all times,” Amankwah said.
When asked if she thought she might go to war Amankwah said, “There is a possibility. I am a soldier. I would serve my country.” Amankwah said that she asked her recruiter if enrollment had seen a drastic increase since the attacks. He told her that there were some people who were very patriotic and were signing up for that very reason, but for the most part it was pretty steady.
Originally from Ghana, Africa, Amankwah moved to the United States when she was 11. Her inspiration is her uncle who is the head doctor at the hospital that he works at in South Africa. “I want to help children,” she said. Amankwah is a bio pre-med major with a psych minor. In the Army Reserves, which means that she has to go one weekend a month to the base, she is a phlebotomist, which means that she draws blood, gives IVs and does basic patient care routines.
After graduating in May 2003 Amankwah plans to attend Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Washington D.C. She says that she has always wanted to join the army, but was scared. “It was an amazing experience. Anyone who is afraid to join just has remember, everyone is in the same boat,” said Amankwah.