Guest post by Captain Ryann Engholm, USMC.

Throughout my life, I have never shied away from a challenge. I was continually encouraged to pursue athletics by both of my parents. They stressed the importance of an active lifestyle and taking advantage of opportunities that were once unavailable to females. My father showed his support by volunteering to coach many of the sports I participated in.

After high school, I chose the college where I would spend the next four years of my life because I thought it gave me the best chance to become a national champion. Softball had been my passion since I was eight years old, and this was my chance to compete at the highest level available to me.

The recent decision by Defense Secretary Ashton Carter regarding removal of restrictions on females serving in combat roles is long overdue. The leadership principles that come to mind in the wake of this decision are “know yourself” and “seek self-improvement.” All Marines are required to evaluate their strengths and weaknesses, be self-aware, and possess a comprehension of group behavior. However, it seems as though sweeping assumptions, complacency, and negativity have become commonplace in the military of today. Rather than leaning on the traits and principles that have been carefully selected to carve out the most professional and capable warfighters, we have chosen to go through the motions and crumble under the adversity.

As an athlete, a Marine Corps officer, and a female who has led by example not only physically, but has served shoulder to shoulder with male infantry units in combat, I think it is time to do more than just set the example. I believe it is time to set the bar where it needs to be for all Marines. The following article serves as an insight into my experience and is dedicated to the women I served with on the female engagement team in Afghanistan in 2011—those who have already proven they possess the physical tenacity, mental acuity, and moral courage necessary to serve in male infantry units in a combat environment.

When it came to academics, I chose the field of exercise science and became an intern strength-and-conditioning coach. I chose this route due to the head strength-and-conditioning coach, who became my mentor throughout my college career. He still is by far the best leader I have ever had the opportunity to learn from. For some time, I was the only female involved in the strength program, yet I was never treated any differently than my male colleagues. I assisted in the development and implementation of strength and conditioning plans for both the female and male teams at the college. Our mentality was not to think of the teams as male and female.

In the Central College weight room, we trained athletes. Some of the most respected athletes on our campus happened to be females. The school currently holds 11 national team championships, with only one of those belonging to a male team. It was no surprise that when it came to choosing which sports teams we wanted to work with, every one of my male strength and conditioning cohorts asked to work with the women’s softball team. With four championships on their resume, there was a certain tangible dynamic to the way we trained in the weight room that directly translated to performance on the field. Although we never won a national championship during my four years at Central, we still carried ourselves as champions on and off the field. We consciously controlled the thoughts we allowed to enter our minds, and believed that all of our individual actions, whether positive or negative, could affect the team as a whole.

I made the decision to attend Officer Candidate School between my junior and senior year of college, and was first introduced to the basic Marine Corps physical fitness and body composition requirements upon arrival. The farthest distance I had run on a consistent basis at that time was the 60 feet from home to first base. Yet, I never fell out of a run. Due to my experience in the weight room, I found the comparison of the flex arm hang and standard pull-ups to be that of apples to oranges.