Mills sets standard, sets sights on Pentagon

Christina Mills graduated from the University of Tennessee at Martin in August, and with that, the former Reserved Officers Training Corps (ROTC) cadet became the first woman to commission as an active-duty infantry officer from the University of Tennessee System.

Mills, a criminal justice major, said she plans to make a career of the Army if she enjoys what she’s doing.

“My ultimate goal is to get an assignment in the Pentagon,” she said. “If I don’t make a career (in the Army), my other goal is to be an FBI special agent.

“That’s kind of why I joined the ROTC: to have that military background and try to go into federal law enforcement. I didn’t want to apply to the FBI with just police (experience) in my background. Plus, my job in the Army would keep me in shape.”

Mills said she hadn’t thought about joining ROTC until she went home to Edwardsville, Illinois, during her sophomore year.

“My parents both have military careers,” she said. “My mom went to West Point for two years and then, my stepdad commissioned from ROTC at the University of North Georgia, but as I was growing up, they had never talked about that at all.”

Mills’ stepfather contacted Jan Bass at the ROTC office at UT Martin. They set up a three-way call, including Mills, and Bass asked her to come to her office when she got back to campus.

“My stepfather said, ‘I know you want to do federal law enforcement; have you thought about ROTC?’ and that’s how that played out,” Mills said. “If I had known about it my freshman year, I would have joined that year, but my parents just never talked to me about it.”

Mills said her experience in ROTC was as she thought it would be.

“It was super-rugged, super-tough – everything you expect the Army to be,” she said. “There is an element of fun and you’re still a college student, but they work to create an element of discipline, just like it would be in the regular Army.

“I really enjoyed my time in the program. It was one of the highlights of my time at UT Martin. I just wish I had known about it my freshman year.”

Mills works at Discovery Park of America in Union City, but in January, she will begin her military career at Fort Moore (formerly Fort Benning) in Columbus, Georgia, close to where she grew up in Douglasville, Georgia.

“I report to the base on Feb. 4, but I’m going to move up there in January to familiarize myself with the area,” she said. “There, I will start my infantry basic officer leadership course (IBOLC). All second lieutenants have to go through that. I should graduate on July 18 if I go straight through and pass all my training.

“After July, they’ll send me to Airborne, which is a three-week course, and after I pass that, they’ll send me to Ranger School, which is really cool. They just started letting women go to Ranger School.”

After Ranger School, Mills would be sent to her duty station. She said she is hoping to go to Fort Liberty, North Carolina, which was formerly called Fort Bragg.

Mills said she is committed to at least four years of service.

“I do want to stay in (the Army),” she said. “As long as I don’t break my body and the Army is good to me, I want to stay in and just one day, become a lieutenant colonel – maybe even a general. So, we’ll see.

“It’s definitely exciting. I want to be good at my job; I want to be good at what I do.”

 Mills said she was appreciative of the people who helped her get through ROTC at UT Martin and get commissioned, including Lt. Col. Bernard House, Maj. Ahmad Matthews (ret.), Capt. Matthew Gocke (ret.), MSgt. Ken Acfalle, First Sgt. John Buckley (ret.), recruiting operations officer Jan Bass and supply technician Rochelle Alexander.

“They really invested in me to be a good fit and, hopefully, be a good second lieutenant,” she said. “I really appreciate them.”

Mills said she was proud to be the first female full-time student in the UT System to be commissioned, and she said she hoped that sets an example for other young women.

“There are other women cadets in the Skyhawk Battalion who go to UT Martin, and they’ve mentioned that they want to do infantry,” she said. “So now, they see that they can do it. If I can do it, they can do it.

PHOTO: Posing at Second Lieutenant Christina Mills’ commissioning ceremony with Mills (center) are Master Sgt. Kenneth Acfalle (left), UTM senior military science instructor, and Lt. Col. Bernard House, UTM professor of military science.

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