COLUMBUS, Ohio – After her first year of college, Valerie Stearns came to the conclusion she wanted to do more with her life.
“I realized that I had greater potential,” she said. “That is when I decided to enlist in the Ohio Army National Guard.”
That was nine years ago.
Now a first lieutenant serving as the executive officer of the Ohio Army Guard’s 1191st Engineer Company, Stearns has deployed to Afghanistan with a military police company and was one of the first female Soldiers integrated into combat arms roles. She served as the first female platoon leader in the 812th Engineer Company (Sapper) and also leads the 1191st Engineer Company’s search and extraction team.
One of the most rewarding aspects of serving in those capacities was having a positive impact on others, she said, something in common with her civilian job of the past two years – teaching third graders and pre-kindergarten students.
“My favorite part about being a teacher is making an impact on individual lives every day,” she said. “I love developing exciting lessons that allow students to reach their full potential and providing creative resources for students to learn.”
Though she loved teaching, Stearns recently stepped away from the classroom for a full-time slot with the Ohio Army Guard.
Stearns is also competitive, which has often driven her to excel in whatever she does.
“I always enjoy competition,” she said. “It’s important to step out of your comfort zone and challenge yourself in new ways. It’s how you become better.”
That love of competition led her to compete in the Ohio Army National Guard Combatives Tournament, an annual competition that tests Soldiers’ skills and hand-to-hand combat techniques learned through the Modern Army Combatives Program, a core Soldier competency.
She won last year’s lightweight division championship, and is looking forward to defending her title in September.
“Competing in the combatives tournament is a way to build camaraderie and helps instill the warrior spirit,” she said.
With a warrior spirit and a heart for developing young minds, Stearns is stepping out of her comfort zone to grow as a Citizen-Soldier in the Ohio National Guard.