Women lead ROTC at YSU

COITSVILLE — Explaining to a group of Reserve Officers Training Corps cadets how to find grid coordinates Thursday were three women.

Leading the way was Katie O’Brien, ASIII for the battalion staff of the ROTC at Youngstown State University, along with MSIV and cadet battalion XO Sophia Patonis and S3 Dejanais Stipetich.

Cadets were given grid coordinates and, using a compass to navigate, had to travel to the correct points denoted in the woods at McGuffey Wildlife Preserve in Coitsville.

The ROTC group has been meeting each Thursday at the preserve for training purposes since August, using the wooded area for various exercises.

O’Brien, 21, from Austintown, joined the ROTC for a new experience.

“I didn’t know if I wanted to stick with it, didn’t really know what it was about, but I wanted a new challenge,” she said. “I ended up absolutely loving it.”

Now, when she graduates in May, O’Brien will be commissioned by a military branch, along with Pantonis, to active duty.

Working alongside Patonis and Stipetich on Thursday, O’Brien said that she’s realized — although she’s independent and likes to oversee tasks to ensure they are completed — it’s OK to have help.


“This is a team game. The Army is a team game and you have to work together or things won’t get done,” O’Brien said.

The cadets wear rank according to their military science (MS) class. Freshmen enter the program as an MSI and it goes up each year as they finish their degree, such as MSI, MSII, MSIII, and MSIV.

Each school’s ROTC program is organized by positions so a cadet (usually a MSIV) can be become the cadet battalion commander (BC). The battalion executive officer (XO) is the second in command of the cadet battalion.

Also each position has different jobs within the battalion such as platoon leader, 1st sergeant, squad leader and more. The S is the staff position at the batallion or brigade level.


Majoring in integrated language arts, O’Brien will specialize in branch military intelligence, meaning she will collect intel in enemy situations and keep troops updated.

Patonis, 21, from Nashville, joined ROTC at YSU because military life is something she has always known, as her father and grandfather served.

Aspiring to join the FBI, Patonis said the program has taught her she is stronger than she gave herself credit for.

“I can do a lot more than I thought I could,” she said. ” I’m a lot toughter than I originally thought.”

She didn’t think she’d be able to carry a 45-pound rucksack for miles, or train in a gas chamber with proper equipment, for example.

Although she knew she wanted to join the military, Patonis said she didn’t join ROTC right away.

For girls and young women who might not know what to do with their life at the end of high school, Patonis assured them that’s OK, too.

“If you don’t want to stick with it … there are plenty of other careers,” she said.

Still, Patonis said keep trying. “You’ll eventually find someting you love doing.”

Stipetich, 22, from Cleveland, is still weighing her options.

She is also keeping in mind which paths her husband, Vasilica Stipetich, stationed in Kentucky, will take, and how their careers will play out.

At first, she wasn’t sure about ROTC, but joined at her mother’s insistence.

Now, she is glad she did, as it has helped her get into the best shape — mentally and physically — of her life.

Upon her fall 2021 graduation, Stipetich will join the Army, eventually joining the criminal investigation division, “but I’m still thinking about it,” she said.


Joining ROTC, with its higher population of men, was intimidating at first.

“You’re constantly surrounded by guys. They can do anything. They can run faster and throw their bodies ” over vehicles during training, completing exercises easier because of their strength, she said.

But over time, between consistent workouts and mental engagement, Stipetich has found she can do what the men can accomplish.

“You become mentally strong and you believe you are mentally capable to do the same things,” she said.

She’s also become a role model and has found her voice over time with leadership, stating that cadets now follow and trust her.

The ROTC will wrap up its field trainings at McGuffey preserve on Nov. 19.



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