May 4, 2012 — Most people don't think of cheerleading when they think about the Army. This does not hold true for Erin Malapit, who graduates from the University of Virginia's College of Arts & Sciences May 20 after having been both a cheerleading captain and an U.S. Army ROTC cadet.
Malapit, a biology major from Springfield, always knew she wanted to join the military. It's a family tradition – both of her grandfathers served in the Navy after they emigrated from the Philippines, and her father attended West Point.
After graduation and 20 weeks of training at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri, Malapit will join the 18th Engineer Brigade in Schwetzingen, Germany. Oddly enough, Malapit was born just an hour away from Schwetzingen, while her father was stationed in Hanau, also as an Army engineer.
Lt. Col. Timothy Leroux, professor of military science in U.Va.'s ROTC program, classified Malapit as one of the top cadets in the country, saying that he has no doubt she will become an effective and important leader in her brigade.
"Ms. Malapit has met every challenge and exceeded every standard during her time in ROTC," he said. "She excels in the three areas we focus on – scholar, athlete, leader – and is a true role model and mentor for the underclass cadets in the battalion."
Malapit said the Army has helped her develop into a better leader and a better person.
"The most important thing the Army has taught me is how to be a good person," she said. "The military brings selflessness out of people. It's truly a privilege to be part of a community so grounded in service, where I am constantly inspired by my peers' devotion to each other and the greater good."
Malapit said that the Army allowed her to see and evaluate her abilities. She explained that ROTC cadets are constantly rotated in leadership positions, and their leaders and peers have to give them feedback on their performance.
This year, she served as the cadet Command Sergeant Major for the Army ROTC program, a role she described as a type of "battalion mom," who acts as both a standards enforcer and mentor. She is responsible for keeping more than 80 other cadets in line and safe. Ultimately in the position, though, Malapit said she works to foster a sense of community among the battalion.
Malapit's cheerleading was prompted by a random occurrence. When she was 14, her mother was handed a cheerleading recruitment flyer at Kinko's one day. Since Malapit had recently quit playing soccer, her mother wanted her to still have some sort of physical activity in her life.
Unlike ROTC, cheerleading gives Malapit a chance to let loose, especially when she's tossed in the air during stunts.
"The feeling of flying is just incredible," she said. "After you leave the ground, there's this moment when you become weightless, and you transcend all of your troubles. It's just for a second, but it's this fleeting nature that defines it."
She explained that trust in cheerleading, like in the Army, is an integral component to the success of the group. "There is a great amount of trust that you have to put in your partner. Once you're in the air, the wrong move can be the difference between life and death. You have to trust that he will never let you hit the ground," she said.
Malapit is also on the council of Student-Athlete Mentors, a group that works to make student-athletes role models and mentors in the U.Va. and Charlottesville communities. She and other mentors serve as peer educators, visit the U.Va. Children's Hospital and tutor at local elementary schools.
Phil Gates, the Life Skills Director in the Department of Athletics and an adviser to the Student-Athlete Mentor program, said he considers Malapit a "genuine promise of hope for the future," citing her ability to understand and lead others and her unbeatable work ethic as her outstanding attributes.
"Because of Erin, I have an even stronger confidence in the future of our country's military being managed with wisdom, insight, intelligence and courage," Gates said.
Malapit said she wants to squeeze out every experience she can from life. This is why she pursued involvements at U.Va. so fully the past four years.
"I don't think I would have been satisfied unless I had left the University absolutely exhausted," she said. "What makes U.Va. so special is that it challenges its students to take responsibility for their actions, to turn passion into agency and to take that sense of agency and make a positive impact."
Malapit said only having four short years at U.Va. gives meaning to students' time on Grounds. "Whether it was by cheering our team to victory on the sidelines, visiting a recovering child in the hospital, or ensuring that our cadets are worthy to lead our country's sons and daughters in the defense of our great nation, I can only hope that my passing through has left the University community a little better off," she said.
– by Lisa Littman (Class of 2012)