Ana-Alicia Bennett made history last month when she became the first woman to enlist under the 11B “Infantryman” MOS designation in the ranks of the Virginia Army National Guard.

Bennett, 30, raised her right hand Dec. 19 at the Military Entrance Processing Station in Fort Lee, Virginia. The ceremonial portion of the enlistment served as another step in Bennett’s tribute to the memory of her sister, Joelle, who lost her life in a car accident nearly six years ago at the age of 19.

“Joelle loved the military and was very passionate about becoming one of the first females to be part of the Special Forces,” Bennett’s mother Maryann Howard said in the Virginia National Guard press release. “[Bennett] wants to do what her father used to do, and she wants to honor her sister. If this is something she wants to do, then I’m going to support her.”

Part of Bennett’s extensive support network — she’s the middle of nine children — included her own brother-in-law, Staff Sgt. Gregory Roberts. The one-time Virginia National Guard recruiter was instrumental in getting Bennett ready for her impending departure for basic training and beyond.

Roberts worked with Bennett for nearly a year to prepare her for everything from the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test to a regimen of physical training that would ensure her physical fitness was up to standard for the challenges on the horizon.

“I’m actually kind of excited,” Bennett said in the release. “This has been a long process…and now I’m finally here!"

Bennett’s path to becoming an 11B will begin next month, when she’ll head to Fort Benning, Georgia, for 22 weeks of extensive training that will eventually culminate with an assignment to 3rd Battalion, 116 Infantry Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, according to the release.

“I’m just really proud of her,” Bennett’s older sister Melissa Roberts said in the release. “It’s been a very long process and she’s had a lot of very discouraging moments, but I’ve always told her to keep pushing through regardless of what anybody says. You can do anything you set your mind to.”

That message, like her sister Joelle’s dreams, resonated with Bennett and fueled her to take on this challenging endeavor.

"If it’s something you want to do, just keep pushing for it and don’t give up.”

Jon Simkins is a writer and editor for Military Times, and a USMC veteran.

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