By: Tiamoyo Harris
As CIET Cadet Glenda Blanche, 20, held unto the rope of the rappel tower, she hesitated for a moment. Afraid of heights, she began to cry. She was in the midst of a meltdown. Her battle buddy, CIET Cadet Aaliyah Blanding, who also is afraid of heights, called to Blanche who was hanging from the makeshift wall, encouraging her to finish. Blanche and Blanding had made a connection in the past few days of meeting each other at the beginning of ROTC Cadet Summer Training (CST). By the end of the day, both Blanche and Blanding had completed the high ropes course and their friendship formed a deeper bond of trust as they headed back to the Disney Barracks.
“Going through the difficult things brought us together and we motivate each other,” Blanding, 20, a criminal justice major at South Carolina State University said. “I told her this morning that we better keep in contact!”
The high ropes course forced Blanche to overcome one of her deepest fears, but she has faced and conquered greater obstacles in her life aside from training. Blanche, a New Orleans native, is a survivor of Hurricane Katrina, the 2005 storm which resulted in one of the most deadliest hurricanes in the history of the United States. After the storm hit, the Army arrived and established 24-hour operations which included aerial searches, deploying medic teams, and other much needed aid. Blanche was just at the beginning of fifth grade when Hurricane Katrina devastated the only life she knew. Now a rising junior criminal justice major, military science minor at Prairie View A&M in Texas and a freshly-contracted cadet, Blanche credits the moments of seeing the Army acting in Katrina as one of the factors that led her to the ROTC program.
“Once I joined I thought back like ‘Why am I doing this?’,” Blanche said.
“But when I thought back to the hurricane and watching the news and being able to look at what they had done for other people and I felt like I would want to do that for somebody else.”
Blanche had never stepped foot out of Louisiana, let alone New Orleans, prior to Hurricane Katrina. She walked to and from school every day and came straight home. Her close-knit family all lived nearby. However, growing up as one of six children of a single mother in the poverty stricken 3rd Ward of New Orleans, she was exposed to drugs and crime at an early age. She watched as her mother fell victim to a drug–infested lifestyle. Amid the circumstances of her childhood, her life was not always full of grief. She and her brother Javell Jury, who is one year her junior, still have memories of playing in a blowup pool in the backyard of their grandmother’s shotgun house. All grown up and the first and second in their family to attend college, ‘Muthy’ and ‘Dutt’ as their families call them, still remain close to this day.
“We were younger when it happened, but as we got older we talked about it, like ‘what would our lives be like if we never got to move?’,” Jury, a rising sophomore criminal justice major at Sam Houston State University, said.
“If she wants something then she’s gonna get it. She’s inspired me to do things that I probably normally wouldn’t do.”
A few weeks after the storm, her family returned home only to find there was nothing left. Their house still stood, but it was wrecked and ruined with mildew, not the least livable. The move to Houston proved to be permanent.
In New Orleans, Blanche was the middle child. However, once they moved to Houston, she eventually transitioned to the oldest in the household, and acted the part as well. She credits Lisa Cypress, of Houston, a former specialist in the Army and the mother of Blanche’s best friend Faustian, as inspiration to her life. Mutually to Cypress, Blanche is a reliable, driven individual. Blanche became acquainted with the Cypress family once her family settled in Houston. Over the past 10 years, Cypress watched Blanche work part–time jobs throughout her teenage years, staying active in school with volleyball and track, and maintaining her grades as well. Now that Cypress has seen Blanche, who she considers one of her own children, matriculate into college, she is in no way surprised of Blanche’s current status.
“I have the same type of relationship with her as I have with my own daughter,” Cypress said.
“She’s not the type of person to fall into a hole and realize I don’t want to go that way. She continues to grow. She’s always asking questions about what she needs to do because she doesn’t want to go backwards.”
Currently in training, Blanche’s drive has caught the attention of officers, particularly Drill Sergeant William Medina. Medina sees Blanche as a hard worker and thinks she has the makings to become a great officer in the Army. Determined to be a hard instructor, Medina still wants his cadets, like Blanche, to know he cares.
“I come from a rough place myself. I understand where she comes from and how she feels. I can kind of relate and see why she’s motivated all the time,” Media said.
“God forbid something like that ever happen to her again, but if it does, now she would have the skills and leadership to handle it.”
As far as goals go, Blanche is determined to work in field artillery or as a military police officer. Still, the Army was not her initial plan. Her mind was not set on attending Prairie View University either. However, she wanted to remain close to her mother, who has progressed towards a drug–free lifestyle. She and her mother have grown closer than ever. Though her mother has relocated back to New Orleans, she still visits her frequently. As far as her collegiate ventures, she has adapted the culture of Prairie View and remains excited about her future in the Army.
“I feel like I have something to live for and something to look forward to.” Blanche said.
Jury remains as one of Blanche’s main supporters through her training.
“Never would have thought that at this moment you would be embarking on a bigger experience in your life,” Jury said.
“I’m here for you every step of the way in everything that you do.”
June 27 is the CST graduation date for Blanche. Just as she overcame her fear of heights and the natural disaster that left a perennial scar on her life, she knows she can conquer anything
“I know what it takes to push myself when times get rough.” Blanche said.