Anna Page on “Finding Shared Values in Unexpected Places: The Military and Higher Education”

1LT Anna Page

How easy is it for a soldier to navigate the educational process on some of the nation’s most liberal campuses?  Today’s guest writer can tell us as she is a graduate of Wellesley College and holds a Master of Divinity from Duke’s renowned Divinity School

Rev. Anna Page

Anna is presently a curate in the Episcopal Church and a candidate for ordination to the priesthood. A first lieutenant in the U.S. Army Reserves, she’s headed for the Army’s Chaplain Corps once ordained.

Anna earned her commission through Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program hosted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) while attending Wellesley.

I met Anna while she was a student at Duke where she worked for Duke’s Office of Student Veterans organizing events for student veterans.  Extremely impressive, extraordinarily personable, and passionate about the leadership we need for the future, Anna seems like a perfect fit to minister to the nation’s soldiers and their families.

Given the schools she attended, I asked Anna to write about her experiences and challenges as she navigated them while also being in the Army.  Though her essay was written before the pandemic and the subsequent domestic turmoil, her message of finding shared values certainly resonates. (Photos and illustrations are my “adds.”)

Finding Shared Values in Unexpected Places:
The Military and Higher Education

By Anna Page

The U.S. Military needs officers who understand people – officers who understand the human aspect of leadership. Regardless of whether it be 5th century BCE Greeks fighting in the Peloponnese or the modern nation state fighting amid the advent of automated intelligence, one thing remains certain – people are required for war to ensue.

Mission first, people always

The U.S. Army acknowledges this reality. Maxims such as “mission first, people always” and doctrine teaching that wars are a “human clash of wills” and “fundamentally…about changing human behavior.”[1] reinforce the human dimension of warfare. Wars, moreover, are won when people work together as cohesive teams. Cohesive teams are only formed under effective leadership.

We know that leadership is both an art and a science. It is a science in that it requires specific knowledge, training, and technical expertise. The science of leadership is oft learned on the job or through professional development. Leadership is an art, moreover, in that leadership requires understanding people.

Leadership “provides purpose, direction, and motivation,” unifies people behind a common cause, and inspires and influences others towards individual and organizational success[2]. Mission Command, the Army’s leadership philosophy, expands the requirements of leadership.

Building collaborative environments

Leaders build collaborative environments, develop subordinates, delegate, overcome, and empower. They must be committed, courageous, confident, patient, and have self-control.[3] All this stems from the ability to cultivate trust.

These qualities cannot simply be read in a book or learned through a PowerPoint presentation. Rather, honing the art of leadership demands spending time with diverse groups of people, challenging personal assumptions and biases, self-awareness, and empathy.

So, the question emerges, where can the Army, specifically, and military, generally, find officers dedicated to honing this art? The answer lies in our institutions of higher education.[4] To explore this answer I will share my story, using it as a lens into one part of the world of higher education often overlooked by the military.

I commissioned into the Army through the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) like nearly 60% of each year’s newly minted Second Lieutenants. Bright-eyed and eager, I embodied the enthusiasm and over-confidence shared by the almost 6000-person strong officer class of 2017. I was excited to put what I had learned over the last 4 years into practice.

What I did not realize was that what I would put into practice most were not the lessons on tactics, Operations Orders, or the Military Decision Making Process that I learned in my Military Science classes. Instead, I would come to rely on the implicit lessons in leadership I learned through watching my Cadre form my commissioning class as we navigated the disparate worlds of liberal East Coast institutions of higher education and the military.


I attended Wellesley College for undergraduate and received my commission from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Paul Revere Battalion. Wellesley, a historically all women’s college, is known for producing “women who will make a difference in the world.” It is deeply “committed to gender equality as foundational to societal progress.”[5] 

Embedded within Wellesley’s values is its motto of Non Ministrari sed Ministrare – not to be ministered unto, but to minister. Imagine a group of driven, determined, hard-charging women who want to make the world a better place.

That is Wellesley. I am ever indebted to this institution for teaching me that not only I can make a difference, but also that I have a moral imperative to do so.

The student-body culture of Wellesley, however, carried a healthy dose of skepticism towards institutions – particularly the U.S. Military. My peers and I were often met with unwelcoming looks when we would wear uniforms on campus, challenged as to how we could be intersectional feminists and serve in the military, or were recipients of less-than-friendly language.

Opinions that military personnel are warmongering, violent, and oppressive dominated conversations. The lives we lived as ROTC Cadets and Wellesley Women created feelings of displacement as we contemplated how to blend our double lives into our one reality.

Thankfully, my peers and I had incredible support networks from our ROTC Cadre, close friends, Wellesley faculty, and – eventually – the Wellesley administration.

Duke Divinity School

When it came time for me to commission, the Army granted me Educational Delay to attend seminary, gain my ministry credentials, and become a chaplain. As I contemplated where I would attend seminary, I knew I wanted to go somewhere more “military friendly,” amongst other reasons.

Duke Divinity School fit my requirements. It was close to Fort Bragg, had a vibrant relationship with mid-level officer fellowships, and allowed me to take courses both at the divinity school and the school of public policy.

Little did I know, however, that Duke Divinity had a pacifist reputation and that military personnel felt isolated in the past. The same stereotypes and opinions held by my Wellesley peers were also held by my Duke peers.

Now, as a commissioned officer beholden to a battalion, I felt even more pressed to make sense of my two identities – that of military officer and that of student. For the last four years I had been prepped for active duty. Instead, I found myself in the Army Reserves and in graduate school.

Yet again I was faced with being “too liberal” for the Army and “just another part of the problem” in academia. Yet, Wellesley prepared me for Duke. It was at Duke that I finally learned how to blend my worlds and make meaning out of my – once conflicting – narratives of liberal institutions of higher education and the military. This process prepared me for officership.

The human dimension of leadership

Learning to mesh my worlds made me aware of the human dimension of leadership. It made me a Mission Command-minded leader who lives out the Army Leadership Requirements Model.

I became mindful about diversity and representation. This is imperative for officers because our military is an extremely diverse organization; we are entrusted to lead and mentor diverse groups; and we operate globally.

To excel, we must celebrate this and harness the wisdom that diversity brings. My education taught me how to foster collaboration amid diverse opinions, perspectives, and backgrounds. Mission Command expects this of leaders.

The philosophy calls for “skilled communicators able to create shared understanding and support for the mission” who are “sensitive to the operational and strategic implications of their actions.”[6] If I learned anything at Wellesley and Duke, it was how to be sensitive to the impact of my words, actions, and presence.

I learned how to have hard conversations rooted in a desire to understand, rather than to be understood, if I was going to survive. This taught me how to codeswitch while remaining true to myself, regardless of the “uniform” I wore. Sometimes these challenging conversations turned heated. Through that, I learned how to mediate – another skill asked of military leaders.[7] Being in environments in which people had preconceived notions of military personnel reminded me of the importance of presence.

I was always a reflection of the organizations to which I belong – whether that be the Army, my university, or the church. This forced me to think creatively and critically about blending my multiple worlds into one intersectional identity and calling. It gave me the intellect to navigate tension across seemingly conflicting entities, sometimes being the only person with a military affiliation in the room or sometimes being the only person ensconced in liberal thought.

Mediation occurred both internally and externally. Internally, I had to discern an appropriate level of assimilation into my environments in order to foster conversation across differences. This brought with it a sense of cultural awareness and humility.

Externally, my peers and I sought institutional change. Wellesley now has an ROTC alumna organization, and faculty actively work with ROTC Cadets’ schedules and academic interests as they pertain to their military professional development. Duke University hosts a vibrant Office of Student Veterans which supports military-affiliated students, both currently serving and discharged, with community building, tuition assistance, and resources.

None of these institutional developments would have occurred had we waited. Rather, change happened because we acted in the face of uncertainty and complexity.[8]

Opportunity to lead

At both Wellesley and Duke, therefore, I was granted the opportunity to lead both within and outside of my sphere of influence as we shaped an environment amenable to military personnel. Moreover, Wellesley’s motto of “not to be ministered unto, but to minister” taught me about character through inspiring selfless service.

Duke Divinity School

My ethical training at Duke emphasized living a values-driven life and cultivating empathy. Higher education, generally, taught me how to develop others through community building and cultivated in me a desire to be a life-long learner. These are all Army values and what the military says it expects from its leaders.

Meshing two worlds

Thus, lessons in the art of leadership resulted from having to mesh two worlds which, on paper, seem antithetical. This process exposed me to the grey of life in a world which we often make out to be black and white. My time navigating conflicting institutions taught me how to navigate in the grey. It exposed me to diverse groups of people and made it so I could never forget the human dimension of leadership.

This is what the military needs. It needs leaders who think multidimensionally and are aware of cultural and social nuances. This enables building collaborative environments amid diversity, developing subordinates given their goals and talents, delegating as a form of empowerment, and overcoming adversity together. This is what I learned at Wellesley and Duke.

Wellesley and Duke instilled in me that every institution of higher education is a military-friendly institution, perhaps just not in a conventional manner. This is a lesson the military must learn, too, as this realization shapes to where and to whom resources are allocated. It is only through investing in diverse institutions of higher education – ones often written off as “not military friendly” – that the military will find its leaders of the next generation in an increasingly globalized world.


[1] Headquarters, Department of the Army, Operations, Army Doctrine Publication 3-0 (Washington, DC: US Department of the Army, 2019), 4.

[2] Headquarters, Department of the Army, Army Leadership, Army Doctrine Reference Publication 6-22 (Washington, DC: US Department of the Army, 2012), 1.

[3] ADRP 6-22, 3-4.

[4] I acknowledge that this solution is inherently bias towards people who have the means and opportunity to attend college or university before their time in the military and/or have the means and opportunity to attend an institution of their choosing. This is not is it a criticism of my fellow officers and their education. Rather, I am advocating the military give time, resources, and attention to institutions which may have been historically overlooked for being “not military friendly” and consider how these institutions may be forming young people who possess the leadership traits for which the military looks.

[5] Wellesley College Mission and Values,

[6] ADRP 6-22, 3-4.

[7] ADRP 6-22, 3-4.

[8] ADRP 6-22, 3-4.

Please note that 1LT/Rev Page is writing in her personal capacity and her views don’t necessarily reflect those of the Army or any entity of the U.S. government.  Similarly, her views don’t necessarily reflect those of Duke, Wellesley, or the Episcopal Church.

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