Cold rain dripped off the leaves of the canopy of trees above. Icy snow blanketed the ground from a snowfall days prior. Sub-zero temperatures resulted in not a single animal stirring in the forest and deafening silence left to replace it.
The Minutemen Battalion inched their way across the desolated Fort Devens in Massachusetts. With loaded M16’s and other weapons in hand, they were battling much more than the dead of winter conditions.
Dressed in Digital Camo, otherwise known as their ACU’s, the Minutemen Battalion, comprised of UMASS Amherst, Springfield College, Westfield St., and Western New England students, were en route to accomplishing their mission.
Capture, kill and defeat the enemy.
Explosions erupted from the Earth all around. With the ground trembling and gunshots filling the air, sergeants and squad leaders ordered their cadets to open fire on the enemy dressed in Middle Eastern attire.
The ringing from the aftershock of the explosions was overwhelming. It rang around, and it rang in the heads of all who populated Fort Devens on that cold, January day. And it rang.
Madelyn Reppucci, a sophomore at Springfield College from Andover, Mass., reached over and shut her alarm off on a typical Monday morning, the time usually reading 5 a.m.
It was a dream, or it could have been reality. For all Reppucci knew, they were one and the same.
Rolling out of bed, Reppucci rarely bothers with makeup. Her nails are stripped clean of any nail polish, she flashes no jewelry. She is only limited to a black fit-bit and a cross that she wears around her neck in support of her faith.
All things that label her a women are stripped, except for her hair.
She pulls her long blonde hair, that falls to the middle of her back, up tight into a low bun at the nape of her neck. She takes her uniform, that consists of camo pants and a jacket, off the hanger. She covers the standard tan t-shirt, vest and green socks that she is required to wear and makes sure all wrinkles are creased out and her pants are tucked into her combat boots, respectably.
The final touch to her standard ACU, or her Army Combat Uniform, is her patrol cap.
Reppucci is a member of the U.S. Army Reserve Officer Training Corps, otherwise known as ROTC. She is a member of the Minutemen Battalion and is a part of the Western New England platoon that meets at Western New England during the week to prepare for the large missions hosted at Fort Devens, known as FTX, or JFTX.
“I wake up at 5 a.m., Monday, Wednesday and Friday to go to [physical training],” Reppucci said.“We start at 6:10 a.m. on the dot and we go from 6:10 a.m. to 7:30 a.m.”
During physical training, the cadets run, strengthen abs, army crawl through the mud, practice target shooting and do up-downs. On special days, the platoon will go ‘rucking’, which is a several mile hike with a rucksack on. Rucksacks generally weight anywhere from 20-50 pounds and carry all the living necessities for a mission, or in Reppucci’s case, her JTX and JFTX weekends.
What now seems habitual to Reppucci was once a grueling event.
“My first day of physical training I thought, ‘Oh my God I’m going to die,’” she said with a laugh. Reppucci was one of three women when she first joined the ROTC program.
If the pressure of joining something new wasn’t enough, the pressure of physically performing amongst a large group of America’s most elite young men, could have been what made her crack.
But she kept on going.
On Reppucci’s first day, the cadets took to the track where they did a circuit of running, push ups and sit ups.
Twenty laps followed by 20 sit ups and 20 push ups would be the first round. The second round resembled the first but it would be 19 laps, 19 sit ups finished off with 19 push ups. The remainder of the circuit would continue in decreasing intervals of one.
This would all be done before the sun would rise.
“I hated running, I hated my life, I was going to throw up,” Reppucci laughs. “I thought I was going to die.”
She admits that it was the people around her that always got her through.
She said that the ROTC program and her small taste of the United States Army is such a “brotherhood,” as she called it, that it’s a mentality of you’re doing it for the people around you.
“It sucks, but you embrace the suck for one another and it gets your through it,” Reppucci said.
The Minuteman Battalion is historic and one of the oldest ROTC programs in the nation. The cadre and staff of the battalion aspire to teach, coach, mentor and develop student cadets to become future officers in the U.S. Army as second lieutenants, who embody the warrior ethos and army values while selflessly serving the United States of America.
According to University of Massachusetts, Amherst ROTC website, the Minutemen Battalion prides itself on its goal of strengthening the intellectual mind and morals of a warrior. Their goal is to teach each cadet to communicate effectively both orally and in writing and to motivate cadets to become leaders throughout their lives. To do just that, the commander and officers instill attributes of leadership that are capitalized in integrity, discipline and motivation to succeed. Ethical leadership is the foundation upon which the service leadership development through the Army ROTC program rests.
Two other areas of focus in the development of self in the ROTC program is physical, with an emphasis on individual performance in relation to mental and physical well-being. Along with the physical development is in regards to the Military and the spread intelligent, accurate information concerning the military requirements of the United States.
“It correlates to life, there’s been so many moments even with school where I’ve been like ‘God I can’t do this,’ then I snap out of it and think ‘What am I doing, I was just in the woods all weekend, I can do this,’” Reppucci admits.
Reppucci’s greatest lesson from ROTC, is the mental toughness.
Reflecting upon her weekend JFTX at Fort Devens, she says that it’s the positive self talk that gets her through and the mentality of ‘keep going’.
When Reppucci would will herself to keep going she would say things along the lines of, “I know you can’t feel your hands, you can’t feel your feet, your feet are bleeding, you’re in rough shape, but just get up and keep moving.”
She always kept going.
“I’ve been in so much pain and I’ve been in so many situations that sound so unreal that are just insane to talk about,” Reppucci said. “I look back and I think ‘How did I get through that?’”
When the going gets tough, Reppucci gets tougher.
On Nov. 11, 2017, Reppucci stood outside of Marsh Chapel on the campus of Springfield College, at the base of the flagpole. As the flag was hoisted into the air, she stood at attention, saluted the flag and watched the color guard as well as the 21-gun salute.
Her first Veterans Day, honoring those who served before her. Meanwhile on Facebook, her mother, Jules Reppucci, left a tribute post for her daughter. It read…
“Honoring U.S. Veterans today as well as my very own soldier, Maddy. Working so hard in college on her teaching degree along with hardcore training in the ROTC. Maddy gave up her first love, volleyball, and chose to focus on her future along with training to defend our country in the Army. Her dedication, commitment and leadership is exemplary and I could not be more proud of my girl. Love you with all my heart Madelyn Grace.”
Reppucci says that the post was heartwarming, in fact she wasn’t even expecting anything like that. As the comments of appreciation rolled in throughout the day, she noted how humbling it was to read them.
But it also reminded her of one of her biggest supporters, her mom.
“When I was tired and down and school was getting hard and volleyball was getting hard, I really relied on my mom,” Reppucci said.
After a troubled start to life with the divorce of her parents. She was never able to develop a deep relationship with both of her parents.
Reppucci moved seven times after her parents divorce. One of the houses she claimed to be happy in, was burnt down to the ground while she was on vacation.
Essentially leaving a lingering feeling of never being at ‘home’.
However, after Reppuccis first JFTX to Fort Devens last March, she was left traumatized by the most real simulation the UMASS Battalion has witnessed.
“She came back physically completely, mentally and bodily exhausted with hands that didn’t even work,” Jules Reppucci said.
She continued to say that the following days she recieved phone calls from her daughter who was distraught over what she had witnessed. Sometimes, during these phone calls, she’d just listen to the silent cry coming from the other end, helpless in what to do.
“I have her back, I watch her fly,” Jules said. “And I catch her when she falls… Hard.”
The weekends at Fort Devens were designed to be as similar as possible to the front lines of war. With that being said, they tend to ‘weed out the weak’, pretty early on in the program.
Reppucci admits that after her first weekend JFTX, she fell victim to thinking, “Is this for me? Is this what I want my future to be? Is this what I want to do for the rest of my life?”
Yes it was.
Since Reppucci was a little girl, she dreamed of wearing camo and serving her country. But for most of her life, she settled for a different kind of uniform.
Reppucci was a lifelong volleyball player. She was recruited to play women’s volleyball at Springfield College under head coach Moira Long.
She had a love for volleyball, but she had an undying passion for ‘team’.
“The love of the sport and the team, and transfer that to ROTC,” Jules said. “And you can’t get more pure of a team.”
Right after her freshman season, Reppucci dove right into ROTC. She began her morning physical training at Western New England and she began wearing her ACU around campus. Everything began falling directly into place, and she got good at it.
It was almost an effortless transition for Reppucci from being a collegiate athlete to a member of the ROTC program. Jules said that it was so natural for her because she learned to suck it up and say, ‘yes coach’, before she learned to say, ‘yes commander’.
“Take everything inside her as a volleyball player and transfer it to ROTC, naturally,” she said. “ And then it was able to shine because she’s a natural leader.
Despite not playing volleyball at Springfield College anymore, Reppucci still considers herself an athlete.
She wears a uniform, she has a team, there is success and there is failure. Reppucci works on the same fundamentals she once did with the women’s volleyball team, such as mental toughness and endurance.
“We are an elite sports team that doesn’t take the credit,” she said. “We don’t get a trophy when we win or do something good.”
All the concepts were the same, the jersey to the uniform, the weekend tournament to the weekend JFTX, or FTX, and there were even Captain’s and rankings.
Naturally, Reppucci went from varsity captain at Andover High School, to Staff Sergeant of her squad, first in her platoon.
She admits that there is only one aspect of her seamless transition that weighs on her.
Her parents have never seen her in uniform before.
“I cannot wait for the day I’m getting contracted or I’m getting an award and I’m in my uniform and they’re sitting there and they can see me succeed,” she said.
Reppucci says that the most amazing thing in the world is hearing her parents say they’re proud of her.
One of her major driving forces is graduating from ROTC, putting her pins on, being a second lieutenant and having her parents witness that.
As of Jan. 24, 2013, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta removed the military’s ban on women serving in combat. In 2016, women had the equal right to choose any military occupational specialty, such as grounds unit, that was not authorized before.
Reppucci fits the part.
In a ‘mans world’, she is flourishing. She is strong and fearless in the pursuit of serving her country, much like all the other women and men serving.
“Women in the Army…they’re a special breed,” Reppucci said.
Before she is a soldier, a staff sergeant, Reppucci is a daughter, a sister and a girlfriend. Most of that can be complicated by active duty and her career choice. However, for her boyfriend, Jamie Matteo, it only strengthened their relationship.
“It makes me proud to walk around campus with her when she has her [ACU] on,” he said. The first time Matteo saw Reppucci in uniform he admitted to being a little intimidated. But after a minute or two he realized that it was the same women, just a different look.
Reppucci hopes to inspire her sister and other woman in the world. That maybe one day she’ll walk by a little girl and she will tap on her dad’s’ shoulder and say, ‘I want to be like her when I get older’.
When that day comes, she hopes it’s more common for women to be in uniform and serve the country in the military and army.
“She is a very strong women,” Jules said.
“And in uniform.”
Reppucci will choose the United States Army when she sings her contract this year. Within the contract is a 6-8 year agreement, after the end of her college years, where she will serve on behalf of the United States Army.
“My whole life I grew up being a tomboy, and when I was younger I wanted to be a police officer,” Reppucci said. “I told my dad I wanted to be [a police office] and he said, ‘No Maddy, girls don’t do that.’”
“Then I said, I’m going to be in the Army someday.”