By Emily Knitter
Sarah Machina is deeply rooted in three core values: family, military service, St. Bonaventure University.
She comes from a legacy family with a long tradition in all the above.
Machina’s father and uncle, Gary and Francis, Jr., are both retired U.S. Army Colonels. Her brother, Brian, is currently serving as a second lieutenant in the Army National Guard. Her cousin, Jenna, is participating in Bona’s Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) program with plans to commission after graduation.
All four are also St. Bonaventure alumni.
“When it came time to pick out a school, I actually didn't have any others in mind,” she said. “My parents still made me apply to other schools and my dad and I went on a few tours, but once I made my decision he stopped trying to hide the fact he wanted me to come to Bonas all along.”
The intimate, family feel of the school is one of the Clifton Park, N.Y., native’s favorite aspects. It helps stave off the homesickness she feels being apart from her close-knit family. The fact her brother graduated the year before she enrolled was one of the only down-sides to an otherwise perfect university for her.
“It's kind of a bummer to not be here with him,” she said. “It would have been nice to have my older brother here. But when I moved into the dorms, it felt like everyone was on the same page, excited about the whole college experience, and it felt like I had found my place.”
That feeling was further cemented once she began participating in the Seneca Battalion ROTC program.
“ROTC gives you a huge sense of confidence,” she said. “You walk in not knowing anyone or anything and you’re pushed into leadership roles. It makes you hold your shoulders high and become more confident in every aspect of your life because you've done all this stuff that is hard to do. As a new freshman, you are walking around with no clue what's going on, and then by your senior year you’re leading the same freshman you used to be.”
For Machina, the rewards are in the challenges.
“ROTC is stressful,” she said. “But the stressful experiences bond us together. We're all doing it together, from writing missions and operational orders to field training exercises where we are sleeping in the woods for days. It's a totally different experience than if you're just doing normal classes.”
Currently a junior, Machina has valued being able to tie her family into her education.
“Whenever I’ve had a problem or I didn't know what something meant, I call my brother or my dad,” she said. “They tell me all the time if I need to help to call them. I know how lucky I am.”
However, whether cadets have a military lineage, or are the first in their family, Machina believes developing a bond with each other is the most crucial element for success.
“The first thing we try to tell new cadets is to make friends with their classmates because they will be doing everything with them for the next four years, and they’re going to need to count on them throughout the program,” she said. “I have other friends who aren’t in the program, but it is different with my ROTC people. I know I can call them if I ever need anything and they'll be right there.”
Proud of, and heavily involved with, her participation in ROTC, Machina is equally passionate about her dream of becoming a teacher after graduation. An early childhood education major, she enjoys incorporating what she is learning in both fields with each other.
“I can definitely see like the overlap between what I am learning in the education department and in ROTC,”
she said. “It's funny sometimes. For example, when it comes to understanding compassion. Since I'm working with kids, they tell us that all the time that everyone makes mistakes sometimes. But then I come to ROTC and if I make a mistake I will completely freak on myself. I have to remember what I learn in my education classes and give myself permission to be more forgiving. On the opposite side, the confidence I have gained in ROTC helps me every day in the classroom. I will be a much better leader and teacher because of it.”
While her father and uncle both commissioned to active duty after graduation and had long, successful careers until retirement, Sarah and her brother Brian have decided on less singular paths. Brian graduated in 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in accounting and commissioned as an aviation officer with the New York Army National Guard. He currently lives back in the Clifton Park area and works as an accountant and as a pilot. He has served as a model for Sarah, who hopes to follow a similar path to include both teaching and the military.
“I'll definitely start off heading back towards the Clifton Park area,” she said. “I wouldn't mind traveling but I wouldn't want to be too far because my whole family is in that area.”
Machina believes that joining the ROTC program is beneficial for all students, even if they don’t want to serve in the military afterwards.
“I’ve known people who have done it their freshmen and sophomore year and said, ‘Okay, I'm done.’ And it's totally fine, because they still got something out of it,” she said. “They learned how to conduct themselves in front of people, improved their confidence, and made friends.”
As she thinks back on all her experiences so far with ROTC, it is the people she remembers most fondly.
“One of my favorite memories was when we played paintball last semester because usually we talk about certain tactics, and we got to see how it worked when put it into practice,” she said. “But it was also fun because the cadre gave us a few rules and let us go, and it was hilarious seeing how people reacted, especially when they got hit.”
Machina is excited to see what the future will throw at her. Although she is looking forward to returning to her family, an unexpected revelation has altered her mindset a bit.
“I value family more than anything,” she said. “But as much as I miss my family, it seems so symbolic to me that when I open the GPS on my phone, it no longer says Clifton Park is home –it says St. Bonaventure.”
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