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Released August 09, 2004

SOUTHERN MISS ARMY ROTC STUDENT JOINS FAMILY RANKS
By Christopher Mapp

HATTIESBURG - KaRensa Polk signed up for the Army ROTC at The University of Southern Mississippi with the promise of joining an "Army of One."

Contrary to the popular recruiting slogan, Polk actually joined a family of many.

Commissioned as a second lieutenant Monday, Polk, 22, became the fourth sibling in her family to enlist in the United States Army. With her accomplishment, the first female ROTC commander at Southern Miss this century fulfilled an important goal.

"I've wanted to be a soldier for a long time, just like my brothers and sister," said Polk, a Wayne County High School product who got her start in the JROTC program there. "This is a dream come true for me."

After graduation, Polk, a software engineering major, will spend several months at Fort Lee in Virginia, where she will undergo initial officer basic training. After that, she will be stationed at Fort Campbell in Kentucky.

While serving as company commander at Southern Miss, Polk was responsible for the training, welfare, accountability and discipline of 87 cadets. She also supervised an executive officer, first sergeant, training sergeant, supply sergeant and two platoon leaders.

While in college, Polk served as the president of Scabbard and Blade, the ROTC's honor society. She was the recipient of the American Legion Military Excellence Award and was recognized for her academic achievement by the Daughters of the American Colonists.

Lt. Col. Kevin Dougherty, a professor of military science at Southern Miss who taught Polk, described her as "the consummate professional."

"She is always organized, motivated, selfless, dependable and on task," Dougherty said. "On top of all that, she is about as pleasant and positive as they come. There are a lot of people who get things done and a lot who are nice to be around, but few who are both. KaRensa is one of those few."

Polk said she first began considering the Army as a career after her older sister, now a captain, joined the ROTC. "She's very smart, a valedictorian, but not very athletic," Polk said. "So I figured if she could handle the physical aspect of basic training, I could, too." Polk also has two brothers in the Army - one a staff sergeant and the other a specialist.

She fell in love with military life while in the JROTC, she said, and after graduating from Wayne County High School, she continued her passion at Southern Miss, where she earned a four-year scholarship.

"I think I missed only one day (of ROTC) since being here. It's my home away from home," she said with pride.

One of the things Polk liked best about ROTC, she said, was the camaraderie, even if it was sometimes forced.

"When you have to live in the woods with people, it helps you learn how to work around a lot of people, different kinds of people. Sometimes you're in a group of 100 or more, and everyone's got to work together to achieve a mission," she said.

Another aspect that appealed to Polk was the possibility of travel. "I want to move around (and visit) Egypt, Germany, Hawaii, Alaska, Japan."

Her high school JROTC instructor, Sgt. Maj. Richard Scott, said Polk was "one of those types of students you just know is destined for something good."

"She had a good personality; she was very assertive and aggressive in trying to accomplish her goals," he said. "She was involved with the color guard, rifle team, and drill team. The list goes on and on. She's one of those young folks you want to clone and have around you," Scott said.

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September 1, 2004 12:33 PM