Jan. 19, 2023
Anna Zaccaria ’13, an Army first lieutenant, is the first female Army reservist to begin her career as an infantry officer.
Zaccaria graduated from the Infantry Basic Officer Leader Course on Dec. 16. She is a scout platoon leader with the 100th Battalion, 442nd Infantry Regiment at Fort Shafter, Hawaii.
Zaccaria wanted to be in the military since she was at Culver Girls Academy. She applied to the service academies, but did not receive an appointment. She went to George Washington University where she majored in political science.
She works now at Deloitte in Washington, D.C., as a human capital consultant, where her clients are primarily Department of Defense entities and most of her colleagues and clients are either past or current service members. She helps solve problems with the way organizations are run. She said her work at Deloitte solidified her desire to join the military.
“But I also loved my civilian job,” she said. “So my thought was: ‘What are the options so I can do both?’ That’s where the reserves came in. It enabled me to continue making a difference on a larger scale by staying in the private sector but also getting to serve in the military and having a more individual impact by serving in the reserves.”
When she initially enlisted, she was attached to a unit in Maryland. Last summer she transferred to the 442nd Infantry Regiment. She fell in love with the infantry while learning about the Army’s mission during basic training.
“I’m a pretty physically fit person. I wanted a job that was going to be physically challenging and mentally challenging,” she said.
She didn’t initially know that she would be the first female reservist to graduate from the infantry school. But she did know she was the first female platoon leader in her unit and it is the only infantry battalion in the Army Reserve. She also knew Congress lifted the ban on women in combat units in 2015.
She hopes being the first female reservist to graduate from infantry officer training might inspire others. She said she was inspired by other female soldiers breaking barriers in the military and graduating from Ranger School.
“I hope that by being in this role, especially women who are on the cusp of: ‘Oh, I don't know if I could do it,’ or ‘I don't know if I could hang’ -- they see another woman doing it and they're able to find it in themselves to say, ‘Well, it's worth taking a shot,’ ” she said.
Zaccaria said it’s a standard-based job, and anyone who can meet those standards can join the infantry.
Zaccaria more than met those standards. She earned a spot on the Commandant’s List for being in the top fifth of the infantry course graduates and won the Ironman award, given to the officer with the highest average score on physical fitness events.
“She is exactly the type of officer this nation’s Army craves -- competent, courageous, and dedicated to being the best,” said Brig. Gen. Mark W. Siekman, commanding general, 9th Mission Support Command.
Zaccaria said she hasn’t faced much pushback from male soldiers about joining what traditionally had been a male-dominated unit.
“I owe that to the women who went before me who did deal with that,” she said.
Since 2016 more than 1,200 female soldiers have entered combat career fields such as field artillery, armor, and infantry.
Zaccaria said she was an athlete at Culver, competing as a swimmer, playing lacrosse, soccer and rowing, and at George Washington on the track team. She now runs marathons and ultra-marathons.
“I think that my background in athletics really helped make me competitive amongst men,” she said. “Obviously, men and women are different physically. So to be able to be on the same level as men, it requires a lot of preparation. But it’s not impossible. I think every single woman who wants to do it can.”
Zacarria credits her former Culver swim coach, retired-U.S. Army Maj. Tom Duckett, who also served as chair of Culver’s Leadership Department, with inspiring her to challenge herself physically and to join the military.
“I don't even know how to put into words the type of person he was other than just the most incredible leader you could ever meet,” she said. “He was tough on us. Yet we knew it was always for the betterment of us as an individual and the whole team. He really taught us to push yourself for other people and for something bigger than yourself.”
Duckett said Zaccaria was a key member of the 2012 squad that was the first CGA squad to win a sectional title. Duckett said swimming at sectionals is always a challenge for Culver teams because it comes so soon after Christmas break when students are at home and can’t practice.
But he remembers telling the girls after they got back from Christmas break that year: “Ladies you have a chance to achieve the impossible. And lo and behold, they won sectionals and we sent virtually the whole team to state.”
“Anna was the one who was steadfast. She had a lot of fortitude – that’s a Cardinal Virtue – courage. And she swam events nobody else wanted to swim,” Duckett said.
Zaccaria finished sixth in the 200-yard butterfly at sectionals, seventh in the 200-yard individual medley, and led off the 200-yard free relay team that finished third.
Duckett said he pushed that team to the limit by being a demanding coach.
“I wanted them to learn that they were competing for each other. And it worked with that group,” he said. “When things got really bad, she could keep going. It does not surprise me in the least that she made it through anything.”
Gary Christlieb, a senior instructor of humanities at Culver who had Zaccaria in his Advanced Placement U.S. History course, described her as a “pit bull,” saying she had a tenacity not often seen in high school students.
“She was the kind of kid who would accept a challenge,” he said. “She was bound and determined to be the best. … One of the things that always struck me about her was her fortitude. She just was not going to give up.”
Zaccaria is scheduled to begin pre-Ranger training later this month, with the intent of completing Ranger School, the Army’s premier leadership school that teaches tactics and infantry leadership skills. People who complete the grueling combat training program earn the right to wear Ranger tabs on their uniforms.
Graduates of the program do not become members of the 75th Ranger Regiment, the Army’s special operations unit, which requires a selection process and additional schooling and training. But Zaccaria is interested in possibly pursuing that goal, which would require her to be on active duty (by coincidence, Duckett served with the 75th Ranger Regiment).
Zaccaria said she’s happy to talk to anyone at Culver interested in joining the military. She said when she started pursuing a military career at Culver, she thought the only route was to attend a service academy.
“There are so many ways to reach whatever end goal you want, especially when it comes to the military,” she said. “So especially to those kids at Culver who may not get their appointments to an academy or may not get into the program they wanted to, that doesn’t mean it’s over. You just have to approach it in a new way.”