25-year-old Rachel Washburn gave up her cheerleading gig in order to join the US Army overseas.
Washburn returned some time ago from her second tour in Afghanistan to be honored as a “Hometown Hero” by the Eagles at one of their home games against the Chicago Bears. When asked whether she turned a lot of heads she admitted that many soldiers were surprised to know that a former cheerleader actually pursued a life in the military, but that eventually she was just another soldier serving her country.
But Rachel didn’t simply join the Army on a whim. During her three seasons with the Eagles, Washburn was an Army ROTC student and history major at Drexel University in Philadelphia. Her father once served as a Army helicopter pilot and an Air Force fighter pilot. And Rachel, who made the team and cheered for the Eagles from 2007 to 2009, left on a military goodwill tour with the cheerleaders to Iraq and Kuwait. She described the experience, “ROTC is a very canned version of what the military is going to be. So 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. “It was kind of what re-lit the fire and my passion for the military.”
After graduation, she was commissioned a 2nd lieutenant in the Army and she has since become a 1st lieutenant. She went through paratrooper training, but her primary role was military intelligence. Prior to her first eight-month tour in Afghanistan in 2011-12, she was part of a “Cultural Support Team” program to attach women to special ops units to relate to Afghan women. “I was always seen as somebody they could relate to and not this American imposter who brings my values to that country,” said Washburn, who had to wear a head scarf when amongst the Afghans.
Washburn returned from her second tour in Afghanistan on Nov. 17, now with a different role as a platoon leader of an Army intelligence unit. Washburn’s military awards and decorations include the Bronze Star Medal, Army Commendation Medal, Combat Action Badge, Airborne Badge and Air Assault Badge. And despite only having a year left to serve in the Army, Rachel is seriously considering signing up for a few more years.
“But with the program that I did in my first deployment, we were part of that change, and nothing motivates me more than being an example of what motivated females can be in the military. I just hope the military continues to progress and that skilled individuals are afforded the opportunities available to them.”
Barbara Zaun, the Eagles director of cheerleading said on Rachel’s behalf, “I am so proud of Rachel and all of her extraordinary accomplishments. She has tremendous courage and has made an amazing impact on the lives of others.”