Taylor Griffin ’22 may be an incredibly driven rising star in the Army’s Reserve Officer Training Program (ROTC) at Furman, but she’s also only human.
“I’ve become a night owl. It’s hard to wake up at 5:30 in the morning when you aren’t obligated to for PT (physical training),” she said with a laugh.
Everyone’s world was turned upside down by the novel COVID-19 virus, and suddenly finding herself at home in Lexington, South Carolina, with her family in March instead of on campus meant some serious changes to Griffin’s regimented schedule as a member of the Paladin Battalion. Still, she is quick to note she hasn’t turned into a chip-munching couch potato.
“If I don’t work out, then I lose sanity,” Griffin said. “But I’ve been finding myself working out before dinner.”
Griffin had hoped to be somewhere else this summer, at least for a few weeks. Earlier in the year she became one of just four people selected for a prestigious internship at the Army’s Medical Department Cadet Internship Program in Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Maryland, only to see it cancelled as part of efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
Griffin would have spent four weeks at one of the nation’s premier chemical and biological defense laboratories in a program for undergraduate students designed to foster research, development, testing and application of technologies by conducing science and engineering research in areas of interest to CCDC Chemical Biological Center in onsite laboratories. It’s an unfortunate missed opportunity but doesn’t change the fact the Griffin had excelled enough to earn the chance in the first place.
Lt. Col. Christopher Manganaro, the Furman Army ROTC professor of military science, says Griffin is one of his finest cadets.
“In the battalion of 91, she’s probably No. 3. But in her sophomore class, she’s No. 1. And that’s saying a lot,” he said. “She’s going to be the battalion commander, which is the No. 1 overall top senior cadet.”
Cadets are ranked by a combination GPA, physical fitness test scores and ROTC training performance that includes weapons marksmanship and land navigation. Griffin, a health sciences major, is an excellent student who has also been on Furman’s Ranger Challenge team since she was a freshman.
The Ranger Challenge is the Army ROTC varsity sport, and schools across the country compete against each other using physical fitness and tactical skills. Maintaining that level of fitness is difficult under any circumstances, but it’s only part of the what’s required to succeed, much less stand out, in ROTC.
“We’re looking for a three-pegged stool, not one leg stronger than the other,” Manganaro said. “If you have a 1,600 SAT score but aren’t physically fit, that doesn’t help us. If you’re physically fit but can’t handle the school work, that doesn’t help us.”
Griffin, a serious high school soccer player who competes on the Furman club team, was inspired to pursue not only ROTC but ROTC at Furman by the positive experience her brother, Zach Griffin ’16, had. When she started as a first-year student, however, she wondered if she’d made a mistake.
“My first semester doing it as a freshman, I think I was just very intimidated by it,” Griffin said. “I’m a very upbeat, silly person, and when I got there it seemed so serious. And it is. Having to learn how to lead is a serious thing, and I didn’t feel like that was for me personally. But then I started to develop into that role, and I realized some of those attributes that I really want to have and work toward.”
She said a big confidence boost came from participating in Airborne School last summer, which made her “feel like I was in the right place and this is what I should be doing.” Last year, Griffin led eight second-year cadets, and she is in line to potentially be a platoon leader to about 40 cadets as a third-year student.
“I fell in love with doing PT and being in that community where people build each other up, and now as a team leader I’m getting to learn how to lead people and do things that show the people that I’m leading that I care about them,” she said.
ROTC participants receive full scholarships to attend college, and it’s one of three ways – alongside attending West Point and going through Officer Candidate School after being an enlisted soldier for four years – to become an officer in the Army. There’s a 100% job-placement rate after graduation, but the exchange is gaining and maintaining the discipline required for early morning workouts and constant training obligations on top of being a student.
Griffin says it’s more than worth it.
“My absolute dream job would be to be a physician assistant in the Army. I would get to be an officer and a PA at the same time, but there are a lot of stepping stones before I reach that point,” she said. “(ROTC) puts you in an environment to succeed. I feel lucky.”