“Anyone can do it, if you set your mind to it.”
Many children grow up hearing such platitudes, and most of us stop believing in them by the time we are young adults. This is not the case for 1st Lt. Anna Zaccaria of the U.S. Army Reserve, 100th Battalion, 442nd Infantry. She always knew that she really could do whatever she set her mind to do. And for Zaccaria, pushing herself has always been attached to a higher purpose. “She’s been doing volunteer work since she was in 7th grade. She’s always wanted to serve, but I never thought it would lead to this,” said her mother, Jane Zaccaria.
On Friday, April 28th, Zaccaria joined the short list of women who have pinned the coveted U.S. Army Ranger Tab. She graduated from the grueling course without any need for recycling or retraining. Zaccaria is also the first female Army Reserve Infantry Officer to pin the Ranger Tab. Prior to Ranger school, she completed the Infantry Basic Officer Leader Course (IBOLC), which is touted as another extremely challenging course for soldiers. While there, she became the first female Soldier to ever win the prestigious Iron Man Award. But preparing to earn the Ranger Tab came with its own unique challenges.
Ranger school is not for the faint of heart. It is one of the most difficult, rigorous training courses for a soldier to complete. When soldiers pin the Ranger Tab, they are expected to be experts at leading other soldiers through difficult missions. During the 61-day course, the soldiers are pushed to exhaustion both physically and mentally while being trained in combat arms skills. Preparing for the Ranger course is a huge task. Successful students usually seek out assistance from other, more experienced soldiers - mentors who can guide them and push them to achieve excellence.
Zaccaria found a mentor in combat veteran and 9th Mission Support Command Soldier Staff Sgt. Jeremy Dornbusch, who took her under his wing. Dornbusch had to incorporate many methods to challenge Zaccaria.
“It was a program that incorporated tactical training directly associated with Ranger School. We added rucking, tactical knowledge…cardiovascular training in the ocean with short and long swims, cross training workouts, land navigation, weapons training, and team events…all to ensure she had the tactical awareness and skills needed to prepare,” he said. Such preparation took a lot of personal time for both the mentor, Dornbusch, and his mentee, Zaccaria, however Dornbusch found all the effort worthwhile, saying, “It was such a joy to work with someone who was so driven. She is a true leader who wants to be challenged…and is one of the best I’ve ever worked with.”
So, what inspired Zaccaria to go from swearing in as an Army Reserve Soldier to earing a Ranger Tab? “Three years ago, I saw an article about Maj. Kristen Griest, who was the first female to get the ranger tab. I had recently just joined the Army Reserve and I just thought, That's the coolest thing of all time,” she said. Zaccaria was a multi-sport athlete, competing in swimming, rowing crew, lacrosse, and soccer in high school, as well as cross country and track in college. Thus, the physically challenging demands of the Army didn’t intimidate Zaccaria, they invigorated her.
Many soldiers don’t know they can go to Ranger School while being in the Army Reserve, but once Zaccaria found out it was possible, she was determined to do it. “I read about Ranger School, and I thought, I want do that! She did it (Maj. Griest), so why can’t I?” Three years and sixty-two days later, she has a Ranger Tab.
It has been a succession of high achievements for the Army Reserve Lieutenant. But those who know her best say Zaccaria’s joy throughout the process is what stands out most. “She takes it in stride, she’s got tenacity. She doesn’t have any fear and she is the epitome of a Ranger from all they told us (at graduation) today. She’s had a smile on her face throughout the whole process,” said her mother, Jane Zaccaria. Her father Anthony Zaccaria remarked, “It’s been humbling as her parent to watch it happen. It’s been both a humbling thing and a proud thing to be honest.”
Lt. Zaccaria noted that success at Ranger school depended more on character than individual skillset. “Be a good dude. That’s sort of the saying at Ranger School. It’s all about teamwork, it’s all about working with (your squad) and doing things for the person next to you. As long as you have the mindset that you’re going to go in, and shell out for the Ranger next to you, you will be successful.” She further stated that leaning on mentors who have been through similar army challenges is critical.
It is true that accomplishing our dreams takes hard work. But Anna Zaccaria has shown that determination and grit, powered by joy, can accomplish almost anything. “Anybody that wants to can do it. All that it takes is a little preparation. It doesn’t matter if you are a man or a woman, as long as you come in prepared.” Zaccaria continues to forge a path that pushes all those around her. Her friend from basic training, Katie Sepkovich, said, “I can’t stop smiling, she’s such an inspiration!” Indeed, such perseverance inspires us all. Tab up, Zaccaria. Rangers, lead the way!