Head of the Class: Maryland Cadet tops national order of merit list
December 14, 2011
It's a good thing Mariya Golotyuk can juggle.
Besides being a graduate student at the University of Maryland and a single mother of two, she holds a job as a programmer and auditor and as a Soldier in the Maryland Army National Guard's 244th Engineer Company.
Golotyuk (pronounced Goh-low-tuck) is also an Army Cadet. But she's not just any Cadet.
The versatile 29-year-old from Kramatorsk in eastern Ukraine topped U.S. Army Cadet Command's order of merit list for the 2011-12 school year, making her the No. 1 Army Cadet in the nation ahead of 5,642 of her peers.
While the list's release is always significant, Golotyuk's position is significant, too, in the fact that she is the first female to top the list since 2006, when the current merit model was introduced.
Golotyuk's military science professor at the University of Maryland describes her as a champion in every area of her life.
"She's truly exceptional in every way," said Lt. Col. Sam Cook, who heads the Terrapin Battalion. "It takes the heart of a champion to pursue and achieve the highest standards in academics, leader skills and physical fitness."
Golotyuk routinely scores above 350 on the Army Physical Fitness Test, and she maintains a 4.0 grade point average. She has a bachelor's degree in accounting and economics from Maryland and will complete her graduate degree in accounting and internal audit in May as she commissions as an Army second lieutenant.
The order of merit list places each of the 5,643 Army Cadets in the Fiscal 2012 cohort in relation to the others based on academic and leadership factors. Cadets are scored by their grade point average, performance in a national leadership course and in specific leadership dimensions, observations made by ROTC instructor cadre and physical fitness test scores.
Golotyuk has a history of disciplined excellence. At age 4, she started training in acrobatics with the Ukraine Olympic Reserve, an organization that prepares children to compete in sports at the highest levels. But training too intensely at too young an age, she said, left her injured and expelled from the program.
At 15, after more than a decade of training, and following recovery from a serious injury sustained during practice, Golotyuk turned to academics and sport at the National Technical University Ukraine in Kiev. After some years studying math, physics and tennis at the university, she landed an invitation to teach and coach tennis at Trinity University in San Antonio.
Golotyuk learned quickly about the differences between the Ukraine and America. She was particularly surprised by the opportunities for women in the military.
"When I got to the U.S., I heard that it's possible for women to join the military, so I asked questions and enlisted in the National Guard," Golotyuk said. "People were talking about becoming an officer, so I asked more questions."
She sought United States citizenship and went back to school to achieve a master's degree -- she knew enrolling in Army ROTC through the Simultaneous Membership Program was the next challenge.
A life of physical training and globetrotting led to Golotyuk's inquisitive nature and ability to successfully compete physically in an array of activities, attributes learned from experiences with other athletes.
"We used to stay at schools in Olympic retreats and everyone had favorite things to do, so we'd all participate," she said. "We used to play soccer a lot."
Her desire for taking part in new and different things continues today. Golotyuk enjoys snow boarding and surfing. She recently began boxing, mainly for the healthy workout it provides.
Golotyuk makes time for all her interests and engagements by tilting life's balance toward "doing." In addition to staying on top of coursework and projects associated with her graduate degree in accounting, playing chess and building model airplanes with her sons, Phillip, 4, and Boris, 6 -- who are currently staying with other family -- she's also the Cadet commander of the Terrapin Battalion.
"It's a lot of managerial work," she said of the post.
Golotyuk is up at 4:30 a.m. most days. The battalion conducts physical training, meetings, extra physical training to help Cadets who need it and planning sessions with her Cadet staff and with cadre to ensure training is fruitful.
Last year, Golotyuk was a member of the battalion's Ranger Challenge team, which was selected to represent 4th Brigade in the Sandhurst Military Skills Competition against international teams and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.
"I'm not getting much sleep," Golotyuk said. "At this time in my life, I don't really care about it."
Cook said her fellow Cadets respect and admire her performance as a student, athlete and leader. Undergraduate student and Army ROTC Cadet Elena Mateescu shares the military science regimen with Golotyuk, and sometimes breakfast or lunch as friends.
Mateescu, a veteran Army specialist who joined ROTC to become an officer, said the nation's top Cadet leads by example.
"She really does not accept defeat. She does so many things in one day, it's unbelievable," said Mateescu, who has previously deployed to Afghanistan, Kuwait and Germany. "You can tell when someone cares and wants to make a difference, and (she) does."
Gabrielle Mazzola, a Cadet in her second year of ROTC, spent a semester last year training with Golotyuk as the only other female member of Maryland's Ranger Challenge team.
"We would work out at the gym five days a week, fill our backpacks with weights and run stairs," Mazzola said. "It was good to have someone who would push me. When we were exhausted, she'd still keep going and not complain."
Golotyuk's high level of fitness pushed even the men on the team, who weren't interested in being outperformed by a woman, Mazzola said.
Cook said that while he's proud of Golotyuk's accomplishments, he's more excited about her potential and her future.
"Undoubtedly, she will continue to perform as a champion in everything she pursues," Cook said, "and our Army will be a greater place because of the leadership she is going to provide to her Soldiers."
Although Golotyuk's opportunities seem numerous, she said she's enjoying the ride she's currently on. Her place in the Maryland National Guard works because she loves building and contributing to the community, and her engineer unit works on school reconstruction projects. Her place in Army ROTC works because she's excited about becoming an Army officer.
"I have a goal of becoming a leader with an empathetic mind ... to safer place for families," Golotyuk said. "And Army ROTC has given me the tools and experience to become resilient and self-confident. The program taught me that I am capable of accomplishing whatever I choose."
Although she's a National Guard member receiving a commission, Golotyuk has applied for active duty -- to be released from the National Guard -- but it's up to the Department of the Army and the National Guard, she said. Barring approval, she is already working in a civilian profession that uses her strengths and education, and will continue to serve in her Maryland National Guard unit.
Whatever she chooses, Golotyuk wants to excel.
"Whether I become a military intelligence officer, or something else, I know I want to do it from my heart," she said. "And while I like to do new things, technical things, and be good at it, at the end of the day I want to be there to lead my Soldiers."