FORT LEE, Virginia – One of the Virginia Army National Guard’s newest recruits, Pvt. Ana-Alicia Bennett made history when she enlisted as an 11B Infantryman Dec. 19, 2019, at the Military Entrance Processing Station at Fort Lee, Virginia. Bennett is the first female to enlist into the Virginia Army National Guard as an 11B, and the first female 11B to enlist at the Fort Lee MEPS.
The middle of nine children, Bennett has known for years that she wanted to serve her country. Now, at 30, she’s finally fulfilling her dreams and using her youngest sister, Joelle Howard, as her inspiration.
“Joelle passed away in 2014. So, that’s like my biggest motivation right now,” Bennett said.
Their mother, Maryann Howard, explained that Joelle was just a few months shy of turning 20 before losing her life in a tragic car accident.
“Joelle loved the military and was very passionate about becoming one of the first females to be part of the Special Forces,” Howard said.
In honor of her sister’s memory, it was that drive to be the first that set the ball in motion for Bennett to take her first step toward joining the infantry.
“I’m actually kind of excited,” she said “This has been a long process…and now I’m finally here!”
One of the biggest obstacles for Bennett was getting all the paperwork together and she was very nervous about taking the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, or ASVAB, the required entry exam for everyone interested in joining the military. Bennett ended up getting a tutor to help prepare her for the test, who helped with her study habits, and prepared her what taking the test would be like.
“I’m just really proud of her,” said Melissa Roberts, Bennett’s older sister. “It’s been a very long process and she’s had a lot of very discouraging moments, but I’ve always told her to keep pushing through regardless of what anybody says. You can do anything you set your mind to.”
Melissa’s husband, Bennett’s brother-in-law, Staff Sgt. Gregory Roberts previously served as a recruiter in the Virginia National Guard Recruiting and Retention Battalion. He first started working Bennett back in March 2019. He said that there were a few hiccups along the way, but Bennett was dedicated and determined and continued to stay positive throughout the process. After Roberts left his recruiting position, Staff Sgt. Cameron Casey took over as Bennett’s recruiter.
“I’ve only been working with her since November, not very long, but I can say she’s very persistent,” said Casey. “We came across a few hurdles she had to jump, but she overcame them and continued on.”
Her mother said she was a little concerned about Bennett joining, just because of her age, but that her brother, Sgt. Christopher Bennett, was 32 when he joined the U.S. Army as a 19D Cavalry Scout.
“She wants to do what her father used to do, and she wants to honor her sister,” she said. “If this is something she wants to do, then I’m going to support her.”
Bennet said to get prepared for her upcoming training as an infantry Soldier, she’s doing a lot of fitness and is relying on family and friends with military service to help her get ready.
As I said, it’s been a long process,” Bennett said. “But, if it’s something you want to do, just keep pushing for it and don’t give up.”
Bennet leaves for training in February and will spend 22 weeks at Fort Benning, Georgia, learning basic Soldier and infantry skills. Upon her successful completion of that training, she will be assigned to 3rd Battalion, 116 Infantry Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team.