After four deployments and more than 400 combat missions, Ed Olesh no longer wanted to gamble with his life.
At 18, Olesh left the family farm in Ohiopyle, Pa., for basic training. He joined the U.S. Army’s 75th Ranger Regiment, one of the military’s most elite infantry units.
Throughout the next six years, his roles varied – from grenade launcher to machine gunner to demolitions expert.
Then, while stationed in Seattle, Wash., with the 2nd Ranger Battalion, Olesh would take on a new role in his personal life – husband.
“The Few, The Proud” is more than just a catchy recruiting slogan for the U.S. Marines. The Marine Corps, after all, is the smallest military branch within the Department of Defense, and for good reason.
It prides itself on having grueling basic training that only the fittest can conquer, and its emphasis on physical readiness prepares Marines for the rigors of combat.
Laura Bowen, of McLean, Va., wanted in on that.
A woman who stands 4 feet, 11 inches tall, Bowen knew she didn’t fit the image of the stoic Marine with a crewcut.
Every other week, the West Virginia University Astronomy Club gathers on the rooftop of White Hall to gaze at the night sky.
Planetary nebulas, constellations, clusters – if it’s visible through the Observatory’s 14-inch Celestron telescope, the club members will geek out about it.
Among the students is a bearded fellow who chats up his classmates on courses they’re taking, favorite professors and eateries on High Street. For the past few years, they’ve elected him club president.
Marvina Jones doesn’t shake hands.
It’s not a sign of disrespect. She’s a U.S. Air Force veteran and a public health student. She’ll take protecting herself and others first over social constraints.
“Sorry, but it’s cold season,” said Jones, declining a handshake on a crisp fall afternoon.
Jones, a first lieutenant with the Pittsburgh-based 911th Airlift Wing of the Air Force Reserves, dove into her first semester of graduate school this fall at West Virginia University. She’s enrolled in the master of public health program, with an emphasis on health policy, management and leadership.
Army and Navy
John Killmeyer is a happily married man, a devout Mountaineer Maniac and an aspiring forensic pathologist.
Now that he is no longer a woman, the 32-year-old U.S. Army veteran seems more at peace with himself. Killmeyer is a transgender man.
“I knew since fourth grade,” said the Morgantown, W.Va., native. “It’s exhausting pushing that away. It was one more thing I didn’t want to deal with.”
Amanda Neff is finding more “water time” as a West Virginia University student than she has in her 13-plus years with the U.S. Navy and Navy Reserves.
The senior from Clay, W.Va., is studying exercise physiology with an emphasis on aquatic therapy. Part of her coursework involves shadowing aquatic therapists.
“I can see myself going into aquatic rehab,” Neff said. “You hear people [recovering from injuries] in the water say, ‘I can’t do this on land.’ That’s rewarding as a student.”
You might think that with her Navy background, she’s already spent a chunk of her life in and on the water. But she never worked on a ship.