Second Lt. Erin Mauldin's résumé has more than its share of superlatives, but this month's magazine rack adds another, from a less-than-expected source:
She's now a "Cosmo girl" — sort of.
The 22-year-old was the lone American representative in a Cosmopolitan magazine feature entitled "8 Incredible Women Who Will Inspire You to Break the Rules," a compilation put together with support from some of the magazine's 60-plus international editions and backed by the Clinton Foundation's No Ceilings initiative.
Mauldin's "world-rocking work" is listed alongside an 18-year-old Polish chemist developing a treatment for pancreatic cancer, the first female soccer agent in South Africa and an Olympic weightlifting hopeful from the United Arab Emirates. Chelsea Clinton wrote the introduction. Mauldin's labeled "the trailblazer" for her post-Oxford plans to enter the infantry.
"We thought, this is someone we need to have in the magazine and tell our 18 million girls about," said Laura Brounstein, special projects editor for the magazine. "When this project came up, we thought this is exactly where this is where we should be celebrating Erin and her accomplishments, because what's more American than the valedictorian at West Point?"
Mauldin spoke with Army Times on Tuesday about the magazine honor, her take on being a "trailblazer" and how she believes her time spent abroad — she'll return for Basic Officer Leadership Course in late 2016, likely with two master's degrees under her belt — will make her a better soldier.
President Obama presents Class of 2014 valedictorian Erin Mauldin with her diploma during U.S. Military Academy graduation ceremonies in May.
Photo Credit: U.S. Military Academy via Twitter
Questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity.
Q. You've had a lot of accomplishments since your time at West Point and while you were there, but in terms of things that you might not have expected to have happen, where does seeing your photo in Cosmo rank in that list?
A. That was definitely a pretty big shock for this year. Being at Oxford has been even bigger — I keep pinching myself every couple of days, going, "Am I really here? Is this really happening?" So I'd say that one is a little bit higher up on the list, followed by graduation. Cosmo definitely ranks somewhere. It's not something I was expecting whatsoever.
Q. How was that process? Cosmo editors say you'd kind of been on their radar since the May graduation.
A. They reached out to me a couple of days before graduation, which was a pretty hectic time, and we did an initial interview. I was a little bit concerned, just because I only knew Cosmo through what I had seen of it on stands before ... but the lady who interviewed me was absolutely awesome. And I think the nature of the article changed based on between that first interview and later on that summer; I could see that it went from something where they thought they would focus on me to me being a part of this group of women, which I was much happier with.
Q. You're looking to do some things in the Army that traditionally women either haven't done or not a lot of women have done. When did these goals come into your head? Is it something that's been with you since you were a kid? Something you grew into at West Point?
A. I was fortunate enough to grow up with a lot of strong woman role models, particularly climbers. I spent a lot of time at the Climbers' Ranch in the Grand Tetons, and so I never saw being a woman as being a limitation there. Also, I think my parents and my siblings [two sisters and brother Ian, now a West Point cadet] did a very good job of fostering a sense that you can do whatever you work hard for. ...
I didn't consider going into the Army until the end of my junior year in high school, and so that had never been something in the back of my head until then, but I guess being a woman had never been something in the back of my head as a limitation. In choosing what to pursue at West Point and the Army, I have tried to do what I find meaningful and what I can make a useful contribution to.
When I first went to West Point, there were some aspects of the summer training that were a bit frustrating. ... One, the lack of woman role models — there just weren't a whole lot of women represented in both the lower and higher levels of leadership. The second thing came from the fact that we did a lot of basic infantry skills as well as a lot of basic soldier skills and the perception that I always had was, "OK, we're teaching you this because we have to, but really, you, the women, are not going to be doing this later on." That was especially frustrating to me, since I really enjoyed that training.
At West Point, I continued to do things that challenged me, which happened to include things that involved infantry-type skills, but also general soldering skills that I think are valuable for everybody to have. I had wanted to try out for French Commando School since I had heard of it my first year at West Point. I thought that it would be challenging, forcing me to use French in a military setting and to work on small-unit leadership and allowing me to do things I really liked, such as climbing and obstacle courses. Overall, I thought it would help my development as a whole person, and I think it did. Never was being a woman an issue at French Commando School — I worked to be competent at what was expected of us and to contribute to every one of our missions. As a result, I was seen as just another member of the team.
Then-cadet Erin Mauldin trains on the Anzio Obstacle Course at West Point's Camp Buckner.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Erin Mauldin
A. I am in contact with my friends who are training for it, and my fingers are crossed for their success. I definitely want to be a part of it when the time comes. I want to go to Ranger school because of the valuable skills to learn there. I did some of the Ranger preparation at West Point that they were doing for some of the men who were going before BOLC and was excited by the small-unit leadership that is at the core of training. The missions we did at French Commando School hinted at the tight teamwork necessary to execute missions on a squad level or a platoon level, but due to language barriers or a different focus of the course, we never could quite accomplish that.
At Ranger school, I see the opportunity to hone those skills in terms of small-unit leadership, as well as developing the confidence in very sucky situations to be able to know as a team that you can either lead or be a part of a team that accomplishes what needs to be done. Yes, I want to go to Ranger school — for the skill sets and for learning the confidence for those situations.
Q. When you are looked at as a "trailblazer," as a "glass-ceiling breaker," is that a label you care for? That you don't care for?
A. I would resist any characterization of what I do as for the sake of "trailblazing." I think it's important that the first groups of women who go through are doing it for the reasons that line up with their personal interests of what they want to contribute to the Army ... so that they're driven by, "I want to do this because this is what I want to do," rather than, "Oh, it would be really cool to be part of the first group of women to go through and do it." ...
I acknowledge that there is going to be a need for trailblazing, but those doing the trailblazing need to find within themselves legitimate reasons that will carry them through. For me, it's because I think I can contribute to the infantry based on my skills, and I want to be a part of that mission. Perhaps there is an aspect of trailblazing to that, but I won't say I'm doing it to be a trailblazer.