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Arizona Soldier Aims for Select Unit

Specialist works toward joining Army's Cultural Support Team, which helps troops communicate with women in other nations
SPC Grace Ogesen, with the 253rd Engineer Company, is training to be considered for the Army’s Cultural Support Team. Photo by SGT Lauren Twigg
SPC Grace Ogesen, with the 253rd Engineer Company, is training to be considered for the Army’s Cultural Support Team. Photo by SGT Lauren Twigg

SCOTTSDALE, AZ As Specialist Grace Ogesen stepped onto the sidewalk at El Dorado Park, she could feel the glances and stares of joggers and moms with strollers rushing past her down the open path. In her physical fitness clothing, she looked like a normal exerciser getting ready for a jog, but with laced-up combat boots and a 35-pound rucksack on her back, she didn’t quite fit in with the normal crowd of joggers.

Her boyfriend and timekeeper, John, smiled at her and joked, “at least I know I can keep up with you with all that extra weight on your back.”

Clearly, this was no regular physical fitness session. Grace, a water purification specialist with the 253rd Engineer Company from the Arizona Army National Guard, is training to be considered for the Army’s Cultural Support Team (CST).

The Cultural Support Program has become an important addition to the Army’s special operations community, which helps educate female Soldiers who qualify for the program, in engaging a host nation’s female and adolescent population. This is a particularly important role where local females’ interaction with male Soldiers is deemed inappropriate.

One of the prerequisites is to complete a 6-mile road march within 1 hour and 39 minutes. The Arizona native’s training paid off; on the day of her rucksack march test, she finished in 1 hour and 11 minutes—the top time out of all Arizona candidates for this year.

“I was not always real athletic nor a great runner, so accomplishing this was self-validation that all that running and practicing the road marches was well worth it,” Ogesen says.

The beaming 5-foot, 4-inch, 120-pound 27-year-old was humbled to know that she made such an astonishing accomplishment, and equally surprised that her chain of command recommended her for the CST tryouts.

“My first sergeant called me in during October drill and said he wanted me to try out for this team, and I could not really see myself doing that,” Ogesen says with a big grin. “I mean, this team is trained by the Special Forces—that’s a big deal!”

The opportunities afforded to CST members, and the team’s notable mission, motivated her enough to move forward with the application process, Ogesen says, explaining that she always seeks new adventures.

“This can be a great experience for me in my young Army career,” Ogesen says. “I love maintenance and will always want to stay in this job field, but to have an opportunity to go out and take on an additional responsibility—and a big one—is really exciting to me.”

Through interpersonal engagement and understanding of host-nation culture, the team members are trained to effectively enable trust and rapport between host-nation citizens and U.S. military personnel.

The next phase of the application process will take Ogesen and five other women from the Arizona Guard into the selection stage that takes place in April at Fort Bragg, NC.

During the 10-day assessment, the ruck march Ogesen conquered will seem like a walk in the park. She and several other female Soldiers will be tested on different levels of stress, both physically and mentally, which will mimic the kind of testing one would expect in the U.S. military's Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape training.

“I know it's not going to be easy, but I'm motivated enough to try and be a part of this team,” Ogesen says.