Some people are not shaken by the unknown. Nor are they blindsided by unforeseen problems. They're confident – open to ambiguity and risk-taking. They adapt quickly.
Little did honors senior Lauren Hovey know – when she researched these personality traits in Dr. Diana Young's cognitive science lab last year – she was studying a rarity: someone who tolerates stress and meets challenges with creative problem-solving.
The plane-jumping, ROTC battalion commander was learning about herself.
"In ROTC, you put yourself to the test in ways you never thought you would," said Hovey, a Newnan, Georgia, resident. "I've learned to deal with criticism. I've learned to deal with failure. I've grown in my ability to take risks – whereas, before, I was very comfortable. I didn't want to do anything scary."
"And now? I've jumped out of planes and led a platoon and done research. I feel I can do anything," she said. "The sky is the limit in this case, and I just can't wait to see where it's going to take me."
Recently named battalion commander – the highest-ranking position in the Georgia College and Georgia Military College ROTC early-commissioning program – Hovey’s charged with the welfare, discipline and academic rigor of 104 cadets. Plus, she just scored in the nation’s top 20 percent for Army cadets. Her GPA, scholarship, leadership and fitness qualified Hovey as a “distinguished military graduate.”
“Lauren is an amazing student leader,” said Honors Program Director Steven Elliott-Gower. “She keeps raising the bar for herself and achieving one impressive goal after another. We are so proud of her willingness to serve in our military.”
Since eighth grade, Hovey knew she wanted to be a clinical psychologist and help people through art therapy. Her high school soccer coach was passionate about U.S. Veterans, distilling in Hovey a desire to help those who give most for their country.
To better understand soldiers, Hovey decided to become one herself. Only, she made the decision to join the U.S. Army ROTC a little late – two years into college. That meant cramming four years of military training into a rigorous two.
After a year – despite challenges like a 12-mile march in full uniform and gear – Hovey was named No. 1 cadet in a program of about 80 from Georgia College, Georgia Military College and Mercer University. She was also one of few female cadets invited this summer to attend airborne school at Fort Benning, Georgia. For three weeks, she learned to rig parachutes, land properly and, finally, jump from an airplane.
When it came time to leap from the C-130 – a plane Hovey said was "as loud as a million bees" – Army officers decided to send their smallest, most vulnerable first. That was Hovey.
She stood nervously as the door raised and found herself looking 1,250 feet down.
"I was just a regular student, and I never thought this would happen. All of a sudden, I'm jumping out of airplanes!" Hovey said. "I never in my wildest dreams thought I'd be doing this. Many times, I'd think: What am I getting myself into? How the heck did I get here?"
"I hate the feeling of falling," she said, "and I'm not good at heights and, gee, this is a bad time to realize it."
The green-go light went on. She hesitated. Then closed her eyes and jumped.
Seeing the canopy chute open above her was the most peaceful, stress-relieving thing Hovey's ever done. But the calm was fleeting. Suddenly ground rushed closer. She quickly recalled her training, landed smoothly, packed the chute and ran back to base camp. Four jumps later, Hovey was marching on a parade field.
Then it was home to pack for another camp at Fort Knox, Tennessee. There, cadets' skills were assessed for land navigation, first aid and combat casualty. The advanced camp culminated with a 3 a.m., 12-mile run in full uniform, helmet, rifle and 35-pound backpack.
"At the end of 30 days, people were tired and miserable but proud of themselves, because we all tried our best and we felt like we did what we had to do," Hovey said.
Another flight this summer took the GC cadet immediately to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where she shadowed a lieutenant for 20 days in the Army's 82nd Airborne Division. That led to more plane jumping – this time, from a huge, twin-propeller Chinook helicopter.
Back at Georgia College this fall – even more surprises awaited. She was named battalion commander and ranked in the nation’s top 20 percent for Army cadets. This helped Hovey secure one of the limited spots for active duty. Meanwhile, she waits to see if her request for education delay is granted, so she can get a Ph.D. in clinical psychology.
"One of the things I've learned is not to be afraid of stressful situations. Don't be afraid of challenges. And even if you fail, it's OK," Hovey said. "The fall is the best part of airborne school. It's the landing and the falling that make you successful."
"Life is really what you make of it," she added. "It doesn't get easier, but you get better."