FORT CARSON, Colo. -- Improvised explosive devices are one of the leading causes of casualties for the U.S. military since the earliest days of the War on Terror.Soldiers in explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) are tasked with handling and safely disposing of unexploded ordnance, IEDs included.The male-dominated military occupational specialty (MOS) has a long and rigorous school to become qualified as an EOD technician, with one of the highest attrition rates in the Army.For 26-year-old 1st Lt. Marae Kalian, an explosive ordnance disposal officer, assigned to 71st Ordnance Group (EOD), Fort Carson, Colorado, overcoming obstacles is not foreign to her. And as a new EOD officer at her unit, she looks forward to starting her journey in the dangerous career field."I'm really optimistic to finally get a chance to do what I learned all those months in school," said Kalian.The U.S. Military Academy graduate, and native of Blythe, California, Kalian always knew she possessed both work ethic and determination. After graduating from Palo Verde High School in 2011, she had hopes of attending a military service academy in her future."I was focused on being well rounded as a student, and I ended up finding out I was going to the Air Force Academy for prep school in December 2010 before I graduated," said Kalian.For young Kalian, preparatory school wasn't everything she envisioned it to be."When I was at prep school, I was really homesick and didn't quite have the bigger picture of things," Kalian said. "You lose a lot of your privileges and have to earn them back. All the things you value as important when you're young, aren't really that important in the grand scheme of things."Kalian then made the tough decision to turn down her appointment to the Air Force Academy from preparatory school and applied to colleges instead. She was soon accepted into the University of California, Los Angeles in March 2012.After spending a year at UCLA, Kalian decided this wasn't the right path for her.
"UCLA was fun, and I learned a lot, but once I was in that academy environment where you have 10 to 15 people in your classes, and you really get a chance to know your instructors, the bonds you make are very different compared to civilian friendships," said Kalian.After leaving UCLA she worked for a pesticide company for a year. It was during this time where she decided to apply to the academies once again. She would have to endure her second congressional interview to be granted nomination, this time to West Point."I really had to fight for myself and explain how I was young and didn't understand what was in front of me the first time," said Kalian.Luckily one of the panel members, Capt. Christopher Jimenez, was an Air Force Academy graduate, who happened to graduate with one of the officers that oversaw Kalian at prep school.With the help of his influence, Jimenez and the other panel members gave Kalian another chance. She was granted nomination to West Point, and shortly after was accepted.Now, she had one more pressing matter to take care of before attending the academy."I had a high school ROTC instructor who told me I wasn't going to get into an academy because I'm a woman," said Kalian. "It was a really good feeling when I went back there for him to sign paperwork after my acceptance to West Point."She went on to graduate from West Point on May 26, 2018, and became one of ten other Cadets to branch ordnance with EOD.It was on the first day of EOD School, the very beginning of the 37-week course, where she befriended the only other female in her class, 1st Lt. Hannah Jerome, 716th Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Company, 725th Brigade Support Battalion, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division."As the only two females in our class, we relied heavily on each other both in and out of training," said Jerome.The Soldiers bonded through their success throughout school, and in some cases, even in failure."On one particular test day, Kalian and I happened to both fail," said Jerome. "Without missing a beat, Kalian accepted reality once the results of her test were final. She got down to business, studied hard, and came back the next morning, having let go of the previous day's failure, focused on the challenge ahead. She passed with flying colors, but used the experience as a learning process to help her succeed throughout the rest of the course."Jerome believes Kalian's confidence in her abilities and resilience make her the type of leader other Soldiers want to follow and emulate."She puts her Soldiers first, making sure their needs are met before her own," said Jerome. "Her selflessness and belief in others contributed to the success of our entire class."Kalian, now two months into her first unit, feels right at home."The Soldiers treat me the same as everybody else," Kalian said. "It's not like somebody can put on the bomb suit for me, go take my hands, and then proceed to do the procedure in my brain. I need to be able to do that by myself. I'm new to the MOS, so maybe my EOD skills aren't where someone who's been in for eight years is, but I hope that they can see I'm willing to learn."In one of the most dangerous jobs in the Army, Kalian looks forward to tackling any obstacle ahead of her while at the same time leaving a positive footprint."The impact I want to leave, especially on my Soldiers, is for them to know that I cared about them," said Kalian. "You can be the best at physical training, you can be the best at your job, but the Army's greatest asset is its people."