FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. -- The transition from civilian to soldier can be a culture shock, but for one new soldier, the challenge of adapting to a new culture is far from a unique experience.
Ten years ago, with only an 8th-grade education, and the drive and motivation to start a new life, Pvt. Malinda Dennison left her small Amish community in Spartansburg, Pennsylvania. With the help of friends, she started on the path that led her to graduate from Fort Leonard Wood May 23 as a military police Soldier with Company E, 795th Military Police Battalion.
Her journey from Amish to Army has been full of challenges, but using skills derived from her upbringing, she has achieved goals she never thought possible.
These goals included obtaining her GED and driver's license, and starting a career.
"I got my Certified Nursing Assistant certification, and I got a new vehicle. After six months I moved into my own apartment. After that everything fell into place," she said. "I didn't want to leave (my community) and not have anything besides being a mom."
While enrolled in college, she met her husband, Sgt. 1st Class, Ross Dennison, Fort Campbell, Kentucky, who she said inspired her to join the Army through his service.
"That's where I got to know about the military. My husband was an inspiration." Malinda said. "I don't think I ever would have joined if it wasn't for being around the Army already."
She wanted to join the Army seven years ago, but the timing wasn't right. She had two more children and continued her career in the medical field. As the age cut-off for enlistment approached, her husband told her it was now or never.
"My husband said if you're going to do it, you've got to do it now," she said.
During the enlistment process, with support and encouragement from her husband, she took the opportunity to prepare herself for the challenges she would face. She hired a personal trainer and studied for the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery.
Malinda said her Amish upbringing helped make the transition to Army life a smooth one.
"We were taught to get up early in the morning and work, and that is what we do here," she said.
Ross agreed that her Amish background has its advantages when adapting to new situations like initial entry training.
"I think it gives her a mental advantage over the culture shock most experience when they first join. Malinda grew up with a strong work ethic, and a great desire to succeed. She doesn't like the idea of giving up," he said. "Her upbringing gave her the ability to adapt and excel in everything she does."
According to Capt. Joseph Lonergan, Co. E. 795th MP Bn. Commander, a spectrum of new skills are needed in the Army, and these skills are more likely to be met by recruiting trainees from a diverse representation of America.
"Varied perspectives help Soldiers generate more ideas when working as a team. Looking at solutions from all angles is critical to problem-solving and mission success," Lonergan said.
Malinda hopes to inspire others, especially her children, through her accomplishments. She has advice for those who want to join.
"Anyone can do it. I believe it is all in the mindset and how you look at it. If you say you can't do it, you're not going to be able to do it," she said. "There are some things I felt like I couldn't do in the beginning, I was not as confident as I am now. I learned a lot and did things I never thought I would do."
When asked which Army values best describe Malinda, Ross cites duty and integrity.
"She loves to learn and constantly seeks out new things to try. She isn't afraid to fail and learn from it," Ross said. "She is very curious. She is honest and isn't afraid to do the right thing. Malinda will do her best to get the job done to the best of her ability."
Malinda said she could not have done this without the help of the drill sergeants in her company.
After graduation, she will be assigned to a Military Police Reserve Unit in Nashville, Tennessee.
She chose the Army Reserves so she can work and continue her education while serving her country, and she plans to go active when her husband retires.
"My plan is to retire from the Army. I'm not going to go through this and get out. In five years, hopefully, I'll be in the Active Guard Reserves," Malinda said.