- The Washington Times - Friday, December 20, 2013

Rachel Washburn, 25, was a cheerleader with the Philadelphia Eagles when she decided a career shift was in order. So she traded in her pom-poms and signed on the dotted Army contract line — and she’s since been serving as an intelligence officer with a special ops combat unit in Afghanistan.

She just returned from her second tour, and is set to receive a “Hometown Hero” honor ceremony at Sunday’s Eagles game at home against the Chicago Bears. Part of her overseas strengths comes from the fact she’s able to interact with village women at a different level than her male soldier counterparts — even helping one deliver a baby during a massive snowstorm, USA Today reported.

“Initially, it was kind of a novelty to people I met if they ever found out,” she said, to USA Today. “It’s kind of a bit of a shock. You don’t expect those two things to go hand in hand with one person.”

Ms. Washburn spent three seasons with the Eagles, after serving in the Army ROTC as a student at Drexel University in Philadelphia. Moreover, military service runs in her blood: Her father was both Army helicopter pilot and Air Force fighter pilots.

Rachel’s enlistment wasn’t exactly made on a whim.

In fact, going out for the cheerleading squad was more impulsive. While a freshman at Drexel, she had a friend who cheered with the Philadelphia 76ers. Ms. Washburn said she loved dancing and football, and thought capturing a gig like her friend’s would be a “cool experience,” USA Today said. So she tried out for the Eagles.

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“I knew it was a kind of a long shot with all those beautiful, talented women that try out every year,” she said, in the newspaper. “I just thought, why not? Go big or go home.”

So she made the team and cheered from 2007 to 2009. The military bug bit again when she traveled to Kuwait and Iraq with her cheerleading team for a goodwill visit.

“Getting to actually talk to people who are in the military and doing their jobs day in and day out … was very eye opening,” she said, in USA Today. “It was kind of what re-lit the fire and my passion for the military.”

Ms. Washburn is now a 1st lieutenant in the Army, stationed at Fort Stewart, Ga. She serves as part of a new “Cultural Support Team” to help relate to women in Afghanistan.


• Cheryl K. Chumley can be reached at cchumley@washingtontimes.com.

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