October 21, 2009 — University of Virginia Army ROTC cadet Kristen Moores is maintaining a family tradition.
Moores, 20, the daughter of active-duty military parents, spent part of her summer in the prestigious Army Basic Airborne Course at Fort Benning, Ga. – a course that both of her parents completed.
"My parents have always encouraged me, but I never felt any pressure to join the military," said Moores, a third-year student majoring in foreign affairs. She set the goal herself of working in intelligence. She is concentrating her studies on the Middle East and is learning Arabic.
"The great thing about the Army is all the opportunities it has provided me," Moores said. "A lot of the things I want to study and the direction I want to go in as far as a career goes are in line with the interests of the Army, so it seemed like a good fit."
When the opportunity arose for Airborne training, Moores, a Gaithersburg, Md., resident, did not hesitate.
Officers who complete the rigorous Airborne program are considered to be among the Army's most valuable, said Lt. Col. Timothy Leroux, commander of the U.Va. Army ROTC. Every member of elite units such as the Rangers and Special Forces is airborne-qualified.
"It was a great experience to have," she said. "I learned a lot about myself and it was fun jumping out of an airplane.
The three-week experience was difficult, Moores said, but looking back she described it as "fantastic."
"You are surrounded by good people," she said. "You see people from different backgrounds. I think it is cool to have friends all over the country."
During the first week of the program, Moores learned how to fall – specific ways of hitting the ground so she would not injure herself. The second week, the trainees got a small sense of the experience by jumping from towers. In the final week, they jumped out of an airplane at 1,250 feet, five jumps in a week.
"I was usually the first or second jumper, and when the door would open up, I could feel my heart speed up," Moores said. "It was crazy, like getting sucked into a giant vacuum."
The trainees' parachutes were hooked to a static line, which meant all they had to do was jump from the airplane and the chute would open.
"Once out, you get caught in the slipstream of the plane and then you start down and that is a cool feeling," she said, adding, "The landings were never comfortable."
Moores adjusted to the rigors of parachuting in part because she is used to the rigors of competitive swimming and being a member of the University's team.
Her swimming coach, Mark Bernardino, praised her accomplishments.
"She is an NCAA All-American swimmer and she is also an outstanding student with a high grade-point average," he said. "She makes extra sacrifices, and when her ROTC duties interfere with her swimming, practices on her own."
"The Army can be a little difficult for women because they are looked upon as not being as tough," Moores said, noting that she had to prove herself to some of the other trainees. "In the pool, I raced a regular Army soldier and a Marine in the 50-meter freestyle and beat them by a body length."
Perhaps they were not aware that Moores was part of a 400-meter freestyle relay team that set an Atlantic Coast Conference and school record.
Leroux said Moores is a prime example of the caliber of students drawn to U.Va.'s Army ROTC program.
"Moores is one of the top cadets in the U.Va. ROTC program," Leroux said. "She truly exemplifies the student/athlete/leader combination that the Army is looking for to lead the nation's soldiers."
Bernardino said Moores was the first female ROTC swimmer in his 32 years of coaching. He said because of Moores' ROTC training she has developed leadership skills, is very "straight forward," accepts constructive criticism well and is in excellent physical shape.
"It is imperative that soldiers attending Airborne School be in top physical condition," Leroux said. "Cadet Moores possesses the highest Army Physical Fitness Score on Grounds and I would challenge any of the NCAA athletes or tri-athletes on Grounds to try to match her score."
Leroux said the Airborne program helps cadets develop courage, exposes them to the full-time regular Army and provides experiences that cannot be duplicated on Grounds.
In Airborne School, Moores trained with enlisted personnel from the Army and the Marines as well as cadets from other ROTC programs. She said there were about four to five males for every female trainee.
Graduates of the Airborne program receive "wings," a small insignia that is pinned to their uniforms. Moores' father, Col. Leon Moores, pinned her wings to her uniform.
"Having him pin my wings on is something I will never forget," Moores said. "When I completed Airborne School I was extremely proud of myself, but I knew how proud my dad was to see me graduate as well, and that was an amazing feeling."
Col. Moores said he was proud of his daughter and was pleased to see the pride she had in her own accomplishment. He attended the ceremony with his brother, retired Army Maj. Larry Moores, also a graduate of the Airborne program.
"It was a real family gathering," Col. Moores said. "It was neat to see all these kids who think that these values are important. They have picked up on their own that there is something bigger than themselves and this is their way to contribute back to society."
Completing the Airborne program built her confidence with her studies and her swimming, because she has an idea of her capabilities, Kristen Moores said.
"You end up with more knowledge of yourself," she said.
Moores' career as a competitive swimmer began when she was young and her parents wanted her to take swimming lessons.
"I thought I would be on the team one or two years, but once I started, I never stopped," she said.
In both the military and competitive swimming, there is a sense of camaraderie and shared goals, Moores said.
"I don't know what my next challenge will be as far as the military goes, but in general I would like to be able to use the confidence I gained from Airborne School and apply it to everything going on in my life," she said.