A change in the making: Three Elon women hold major ROTC leadership positions

Arran Ponte '23, Isabella Piccirilli '23 and Claire McGrath '23 hold top leadership positions in both the Air Force ROTC Detachment 605 and the Army ROTC Aggie Battalion.

Claire McGrath ’23 (left), Isabella Piccirilli ’23 (middle) and Arran Ponte ’23 (right).

The Reserve Officer’s Training Corps (ROTC) is a college program that prepares college students to become officers in the United States military and is offered at more than 1,700 colleges and universities nationwide.

Elon University offers its ROTC program through a cooperative agreement with N.C. A&T University, whose Department of Aerospace Studies & Military Science offers ROTC paths for both the U.S. Army and the U.S. Air Force.

This year, three Elon women students – Arran Ponte ’23, Isabella Piccirilli ’23 and Claire McGrath ’23 – hold top leadership positions in both the Air Force ROTC Detachment 605 and the Army ROTC Aggie Battalion, a stark contrast from past years.

“It’s interesting because during my freshman year, it would usually only be one role held by a woman. But this year, it’s all three of us in order, and it definitely isn’t always like that,” says McGrath, who is the Cadet Wing Commander of Detachment 605.

Compared to other schools in the local detachment such as Wake Forest University and North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, Elon usually has a higher number of women.

“I think it’s good for us to break the glass ceiling. I feel like the women I looked up to when I first started the program were the ones I self-identified with more, so I’m really hoping I can take on that role for someone else,” Ponte says, who serves as Detachment 605 Air Force ROTC Cadet Wing Commander.

McGrath, Ponte and Piccirilli have all expressed their gratitude for all the various opportunities that the ROTC program has provided for them. McGrath took a Japanese class called “Project GO (Global Officer)” and plans to travel abroad at some point to either Japan or Germany. Ponte currently has a position lined up as an aerospace physiologist with plans to apply to physician assistant school, while Piccirilli is waiting to be approved to begin training for a helicopter pilot position, specifically as a Black Hawk pilot.

“I’ve always loved school and learning new things because I’d say I’m a very routine type of person. But I’m excited to finish my major and start learning something completely different,” says Piccirilli, Army ROTC Battalion Cadet Commander.

Piccirilli is currently a dance and political science double major. In terms of her new leadership position, she’s excited to implement change for underclassmen.

“When I was an underclassman, I saw a few areas I wanted to improve. It wouldn’t be fun when things would happen so last minute, and although you can’t avoid that, there are ways to minimize it,” Piccirilli says. “I like being able to push out information the way I want people to receive it so it’s not so overbearing.”

Since Ponte and McGrath work together as commander and vice commander of the Air Force Cadet Wing, they’ve managed to establish a good working relationship.

“I didn’t originally want to hold a leadership position because I’m a busy person, and I knew this would be a really important job where everyone would always be looking to me,” Ponte says. “But one day, my commanding officer pulled me aside and asked why I was getting in my own way and that’s when things changed.”

When speaking of their relationship, McGrath said she and Ponte “have a lot of trust with each other, which is so important. We can back each other up in an honest way. It’s nice to work with a close friend.”

With three female cadets holding high-ranking positions at Detachment 605 and Aggie Battalion, their work in cultivating the new generations of ROTC students will be recognized for years to come.