CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait - Spc. Erin Colburn of the New York Army National Guard's 27th Brigade Special Troops Battalion (BSTB) has been selected for admission to the United States Military Academy at West Point.
Colburn, who is currently deployed to Kuwait in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, began her military career in September 2009. Her parents, Bonnie and Darrell Colburn, asked her to sign a waiver for her to enlist in the National Guard. At the time, Colburn was 17 years old.
"We knew it was what she truly wanted to do, so we stood behind what she wanted. She's always had a very mature attitude towards her decision-making," said Mrs. Colburn.
Colburn said part of her choice to join the military came from a desire to help and serve others.
"I needed to find a way to give back to my community after Girl Scouts," she said. "I couldn't be a Girl Scout forever, so I joined the army," said Colburn.
She had long considered a career in journalism, but changed her focus towards the military because she wanted to experience what was going on first hand. As her father puts it, "She didn't want to report on it, but wanted to help do it."
Colburn chose to become an intelligence analyst specialist, and completed training in January 2011, quickly followed by her first drill with the 27th BSTB in Buffalo, N.Y. in April 2011.
She was assigned to the intelligence section, where she began working under the battalion's S-2 intelligence officer, Cpt. Jessica Jurj.
"[Colburn] quickly demonstrated an exceptional ability to multitask, to take charge, and a good leadership quality. For someone her age - at the time she was 19 - it was way above what I would expect of a Soldier with such little experience in the military," said Jurj.
The unit was sourced for deployment to Afghanistan that coming December (later changed to Kuwait in January 2012). Although Colburn had aspirations to become an officer, she postponed in order to support the deployment.
In October 2011, during the battalion's three-week, pre-deployment training, Colburn was given the the responsibility of daily intelligence gathering.
"It was the first time where I was working completely independently," she said. "I was pretty much put into a brand new environment...and I worked first shift, which is when everything happens, all by myself."
Once the battalion settled into their mission at Camp Patriot, Jurj assigned Colburn to be the acting Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge (NCOIC) of the, now larger, intelligence section. In addition, she was also assigned as the physical security NCOIC for the camp.
"She, without a doubt, operates at the junior officer level," said Jurj. "The great thing about Specialist Colburn is that she operates with little guidance. The biggest thing, too, is she seeks that challenge...she looks forward to [it]."
In September 2012, after six months in Kuwait, Colburn received an email from Maj. Brian Wire, the National Guard Liaison for the United States Military Academy's Soldier Admissions. The email included information about a special program for the Army National Guard and Army Reserve, in which 85 seats are set aside, annually, for soldiers to go to West Point.
Colburn applied to the Academy, and said that it's the experience she's had during her deployment, "seeing how officers and NCOs interact at different levels," that drives her to want to be an officer. On October 27, onboard the Army's Logistics Support Vessel Maj. Gen. Robert Smalls (LSV-8), Colburn was presented with a letter of conditional acceptance to West Point by Lt. Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, Commanding General of Third Army/ARCENT, and a graduate of the Academy, himself.
After the presentation, Colburn was featured in the filming of a "Go Army, Beat Navy" commercial, highlighting her steering the vessel as it defended against United States Navy Sailors coming up alongside the boat. The commercial is due to air during the Army-Navy football game in Philadelphia on December 8.
After more than a year of working together, Mrs. Colburn said that it's Colburn's character that will help her succeed the most at West Point.
"She motivates other soldiers. She's always seeking the opportunity to volunteer, help others, and take charge." Mrs. Colburn said, "She's very determined. Once she puts her mind to something, she gets it done."
All of these qualities have come in handy as Colburn has worked towards a bachelor's degree in emergency management through online courses during her deployment. Though she won't be able to complete the degree before starting at West Point, it's a step towards her long-term goal of working in emergency management and homeland security.
At home, in Marilla, there's a feeling of excitement and pride. "[To] those we have told, it's not unbelievable that she could do it, but unbelievable that it's happening...it came as a surprise. I told her I knew she could do it if she wanted to," said Mr. Colburn.
"Erin, regardless of what she did, has always tried to do her best. I guess the people in the military have taken notice, and now she's being rewarded for it."
Colburn, who plans to study geospatial intelligence, is slated to begin her career at West Point in July 2013.