First Lieutenant Emily Lilly, 38, was the first West Virginia woman in the entire National Guard of the United States to graduate from Army Ranger School.
A decade ago, she had no idea she would achieve such a historic distinction. Joining the military was the farthest thing from her mind.
“Things change as you get older,” said Lilly.
Lilly wanted to do something different. After attaining two college degrees and working at a very stable retail management job, while taking care of her two children, she quit her job to serve her country.
Lilly enlisted in the West Virginia National Guard at the age of 33.
“Children change you,” said Lilly, “So when my children were 2 and 3, I decided I wanted to do something to make them proud.”
Her grandfather served as an cavalry-turned-armor officer during World War II, so a chance to follow in his footsteps would be in the offing for Lilly.
When the military opened up combat branches to women, Lilly jumped at the chance.
“I immediately called the squadron commander and said, ‘I want to switch. I want to re-branch to armor. What do I have to do?’ He said, ‘I knew you were going to ask, so I am already looking into it,'” Lilly said.
From there, her eyes were set on Army Ranger School.
“It’s the most difficult thing I have done before in my life,” said Lilly.
After completing the demanding course, she earned a coveted Ranger tab. Lilly has been forging a path, not only for women, but for all soldiers at home in West Virginia.
“When I came back to my unit, a lot of guys were like ‘yeah I wanna do this.’ And I said, ‘yeah absolutely.’ Just think if it ever gets really bad, and it sucks really bad, just think a 38-year-old woman just did this. You should be able to do it,” Lilly said.