FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- Not many people could recognize Carly Schroeder June 27 at Fort Jackson's Hilton Field. The blonde-haired, blue-eyed Lizzy McGuire and General Hospital actress who traded her red carpet heels for combat boots, blended into the crowd of roughly 450 other identically dressed soldiers as they walked across the field during their Basic Combat Training graduation ceremony.
"Army life is very different from Hollywood," Schroeder said. "There are some similarities, but Army life is very uniform. Everyone is very disciplined and everyone is treated equally."
No stranger to weapons training and the physicality of stunt work, Schroeder faced a new set of challenges during BCT. She faced marksmanship courses with the Army's M4 rifle, daily physical fitness workouts, ruck marches, obstacle courses, learning to work with others as a team and a culminating event that tests the abilities and strengths of fellow soldiers to work together to successfully complete a set of missions -- The Forge.
"The most difficult thing has to be between the ruck marches and food," Schroeder said. "Before I came here I was vegan."
Schroeder lived the vegan lifestyle for quite some time before enlisting, but adapted to a vegetarian diet to take in additional protein during training. While the military has always offered alternate meals to those with dietary needs, it can be challenging to find a wide variety of those foods within the BCT environment.
"It was quite an adjustment," said Schroeder. "There was only one MRE I could eat, veggie crumbles."
An MRE, or Meal, Ready-to-Eat, are daily rations that contain about a day's worth of calories in a convenient to carry and store pouch. The MRE mentioned is Menu 11 -- Vegetable Crumbles with Pasta in Taco Style Sauce. With a little help from some new friends, she "fare-d" well with field rations.
"My team mates really made sure they had my back and got the veggie crumbles for me every time," Schroeder said.
Schroeder, like all trainees to pass through BCT, learned not only the basics of making a soldier physically but also social skills that allowed her to adapt and overcome in stressful situations and when finding herself in a foreign environment with new people. These skills empower soldiers to build personal and professional relationships quickly and units to build a cohesiveness that helps ensure successful future missions.
"Basic Combat Training was fun but hard too," said Pvt. Mylene Sanchez, a fellow unit member. "The ruck marches were really hard, Schroeder really helped me a lot with them. She helped take some of the weight for me."
Actions such as helping a buddy out with a few pounds during a ruck march exemplify one of the seven Army core values -- selfless service. These values are instilled in each Soldier from day one of training and they use them to build strong teams.
"Teamwork was the biggest obstacle for everyone to overcome," said another unit member Spc. Joel Morris. "As long as you push forward and kept trying, it was a breeze."
Schroeder easily cultivated relationships, even with those who knew of her silver screen time.
Schroeder explained how she didn't talk about her time as an actress and how she wanted to blend in so people wouldn't treat her differently. Eventually, word spread about her acting career, but her relationships with her team members was already cemented.
"She was an amazing leader," said Pvt. Cindy Ganesh, another unit member who trained alongside Schroeder. "She took the time to go and help and teach. She was a friend, a real friend."
Morris said, "she would kick everyone's butt in combatives."
As the 10-weeks of training came to an end with the graduation ceremony, the soldiers now face Advanced Individual Training. Some of the soldiers who met in training will continue on with fellow graduates depending on the location of their AIT training and their occupational specialty. Schroeder is a 09S -- Commissioned Officer Candidate who will attend 12 weeks of tactical and leadership training at Fort Benning, Georgia before she is officially commissioned.
While the former actress is on her way to the next chapter of her military career, she is not likely to forget soon the friendships she built in BCT.
"They're not my team members anymore, we became family" Schroeder said. "We worked through 10 hard weeks together. It was brutal but it's what we bonded over."