HUNTSVILLE, Ala. --1st Lt. Sara Crum left her home in Huntsville with three goals; be the best Soldier in her class, help her fellow lieutenants along the way and spend time with her family.
The new mom didn't let the fact that she was still nursing her eight-month-old daughter and sleeping little stop her from chasing her goals.
Baby in tow, the Alabamian arrived at Signal Officer Basic Leadership Course at Fort Gordon, Georgia, with a plan for success.
A PLAN FOR SUCCESS
Crum knew that fitness is a large part of the Army's holistic leadership model. To compete at the highest level during BOLC, she started working out shortly after giving birth.
To make sure she could max the Army Physical Fitness Test-she performed high-intensity interval training to build her athletic capacity and conditioning.
The workouts paid off. During BOLC, Crum scored perfect scores on her record fitness tests and earned the German Armed Forces Badge for Military Proficiency Gold Award. The gold award, the highest category awarded demands a high level of physical fitness.
"You gotta get that heart rate up," Crum said. "HIIT training allowed me to work on my weaknesses and get after the stuff that I needed to improve on after having my baby."
Her success extended beyond the PT field and into the classroom. Staying true to her plan, Crum volunteered to be the academic officer to impact her peers' performance. She hosted weekly study sessions to support students that needed extra help.
"I want to be a leader that always accomplishes the mission, but I focus on people more than anything. I wanted my peers to be successful."
Those efforts helped her earn the Maj. Gen. Charles Kilbourne Leadership Award during BOLC.
The award, a peer-nominated and board-selected honor, is given to an officer who exemplifies the highest standards of military leadership.
Her extra efforts in the classroom didn't stop her from spending time with her family. As planned, in the evenings and on the weekends Crum spent time with her daughter and fiancé.
She also studied for and achieved GIAC Certified Enterprise Defender Information Assurance Level III certification and took online classes for her master's degree in Cybersecurity.
By the end of BOLC, Crum met her goals and more. She graduated with honors and credits her ambition and the support from her fiancé as the keys to her success.
"I set goals early. The goals were what I wanted, and not what someone else wanted for me. Second, I had a huge support line from my fiancé who watched our baby during the day while I was in class."
She also believes keeping an open mind and maintaining a positive attitude during tough times helped her be so successful.
But things haven't always gone according to plan.
CHANGE IN PLANS
After high school, Crum attended community college and enlisted as an intelligence analyst in the Tennessee Army National Guard. She planned to finish her Army training, study biochemistry at Middle Tennessee State University and become a pharmacist.
But her time at Fort Huachuca planted a seed and piqued an interest in something that she grew to love; intelligence work and leadership.
"The military came naturally to me-I loved it, the experience at AIT was perfect," she said. " I think it was the team building and the family environment-- the camaraderie."
As planned, Crum enrolled at MTSU and joined the university's Reserve Officer Training Corps.
Shortly before graduating and after taking the Pharmacy College Admission Test, things changed. Crum realized that being a pharmacist was not what she wanted to do, but because she was so far along in her biochemistry program, she went ahead and finished the degree.
"I decided not to go to pharmacy school and pursue my career with the Army. I wanted to do meaningful work, be in the FBI or something. Intelligence, analytics, and defense work are my passions," Crum said.
She graduated in 2017 and commissioned in U.S. Army Reserve. Originally branched aviation, Crum found herself also questioning her path in the Army, shortly before leaving for flight school.
"I thought I could have two separate careers, one inside and one outside of the Army," Crum said. "But I realized I could not be an expert in aviation and intel and I wanted to create the proper balance in my life."
Crum branch transferred to Signal before leaving for BOLC to align her career goals with her passions. She joined the Defense Information Systems Agency-Army Reserve Element in Huntsville, where she currently serves as a team officer in charge.
"I chose signal because the communications world is integrated with the security threats that face our country, and that is what I am passionate about."
OUTSIDE OF THE UNIFORM
Despite having a biochemistry degree, Crum leveraged her education and military experience to find work as a defense contractor working in cybersecurity.
She credits her determination for helping her find a defense job and offered advice for others who are on a path that differs from their education.
"You don't have to come from a STEM background to excel in the signal field or obtain a STEM degree," Crum said.
"Everything is the amount of effort and attitude you put in to achieve what you desire. Anything can be done. Never take a no for an answer. If one path doesn't work, find another one. If it is what you want, don't give up."
Crum says she works with some of the smartest people in the country.
"I am humble enough to know that I am not the smartest person there. But I strive every day to improve and be a strong member of the team. One that everyone can rely on."
Her training in the Army Reserve and her work as a defense contractor complement one another.
"Everything that I learn in the Army and continue to learn directly supports my civilian job," Crum said.
"My job loves the fact that I have the Soldier experience of various equipment systems, platforms and devices. It gives me the ability to provide multiple perspectives when working on projects to help secure the DoD."
She appreciates the flexibility that being a part-time Soldier offers, which allows her to pursue her education and career as much or as little as she wants.
"I can serve our country, have amazing benefits, and create my own career at the same time," Crum said.
"The Army Reserve gives me the ability to do all of these things and take care of my baby girl, who is a year old. I have plenty of time for my intelligence career, my Army career, my family and myself."
She plans to make a career in America's Army Reserve and hopes to become a general officer.
"I want to become a general one day. I want to be in a position where I can have an impact across all levels of the military. More than anything I want to focus on the people responsible for accomplishing the mission."