An Air Force Academic

Amanda James, B.A. ’10, balanced military service and an education at GW.

June 04, 2010

Amanda James, B.A.’10, was one of the lucky GW students to land a job right after graduation. But her new position is more than entry level. Ms. James currently helps oversee personnel and operations across the United States as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force, based in Los Angeles.

Although she was always interested in serving in the military, the decision of which branch to join was a serious one for Ms. James. When she was a junior in high school, Ms. James met with recruiters to decide which one was best for her. The Air Force became far and away her choice.

“I sat my parents down and told them I was going to do Air Force ROTC and join the military after college,” says Ms. James. “I received an Air Force scholarship my senior year of high school, and during the first week at GW I signed my contract to complete four years of ROTC and four years of active duty service upon graduation.”

Coursework already keeps GW students busy, but try balancing military training and a full load of classes. While she pursued a double major in international affairs and Chinese language and literature as well as a minor in history, Ms. James also took military classes and trained at Howard University with her fellow AFROTC members up to four times a week. Although she admits she was “quite busy” during her four years at GW, Ms. James says her time with AFROTC provided her with unique opportunities.

“Being a cadet had some amazing advantages,” says Ms. James. “I had the chance to meet and talk to both the secretary and chief of staff of the Air Force, among other government leaders. As a senior, I was the cadet wing commander and in charge of all training and operations for 111 cadets. The responsibilities and mentorship that I received while holding the position have helped shape me as a leader and prepared me for my future career.”

For her academic achievements, Ms. James received the Elliott School of International Affairs’ Wilbur J. Carr Prize, awarded to “outstanding” undergraduates. Her service in the AFROTC earned her the title of “distinguished graduate” as well as the Major General Jeanie M Holm Leadership Excellence Award for the region. At GW, Ms. James was also a member of Model NATO and volunteered with We Are Family, a local senior outreach network.

Professor of Chinese Jonathan Chaves, who taught Ms. James and attended her AFROTC graduation, says Ms. James is “one of the very finest” students he has taught in the last 40 years. “Her attitude toward her studies was one of seriousness and commitment to success,” says Dr. Chaves. “She was able to maintain the highest level of achievement in the extremely taxing major of Chinese language and literature, while pursuing with equal success training in the AFROTC program.”

When asked to name a few special GW memories, Ms. James says attending the inauguration of President Barack Obama and a giant snowball fight in Dupont Circle during the 2010 blizzard were “unforgettable” moments.

Although her days of being a ROTC cadet are behind her, Ms. James says she is grateful for what she calls “an absolutely fantastic opportunity.” “ROTC not only teaches leadership, responsibility and time management, but also it provides a great opportunity to learn about yourself and meet and work with new people,” she says. “And on top of that, no student loans and a guaranteed job upon graduation!”

Comments? Criticism? The conversation continues. We welcome reactions, commentary and story recommendations on our Facebook page.

To return to the George Washington Today homepage, click here.