Rachel Couture

A Veteran Sorority Girl

Rachel Thornton, a native of Eugene, Oregon, almost overlooked the University of Alabama due to her love for Oregon football. The top-rated engineering program is what finally made her apply to Alabama. Just like many other freshmen who come to Alabama, Rachel hoped to join a sorority. Everyone in her life was very supportive and jumped at the chance to write her a letter of recommendation or help in any way they could. Yet, heading into recruitment, she expected not to get a bid from any house because she is not your average freshman. Rachel Thornton is a 27-year-old true freshman.

After graduating from high school, she was set to go to a small private college in Seattle; however, she could afford only one semester before having to drop out. Seeking to do something great for someone other than herself, Rachel joined the Air Force in 2009 because of the plethora of opportunities for women and the fact that it has the highest percent of women of all the military branches. Rachel's first deployment was to Kuwait as an Arabic linguist, and her favorite mission was being deployed to Turkey for 15 months where she ran emergency management. Rachel left the Air Force in January 2016. She said it was one of the hardest decisions she has ever made, but she felt that her career could not progress without a degree and is considering rejoining after she graduates.

Everything about college is brand-new to Rachel. Being in the Air Force was just like living at home with her parents, but now she must learn to live on her own without harsh rules and restrictions. There are both pros and cons to enrolling in college many years after graduating from high school. On the positive end, Rachel knows that she has a greater appreciation for her education and is not as focused on the social aspect of college because she has already passed that phase of her life. She also has better situational awareness which brings confidence when on a large campus. On the other end, Rachel still experiences many of the same fears that the rest of her classmates have. Her list of cons range from not knowing the best study technique to residual war zone anxiety during class and everything in between.

While it is very common for male veterans of Rachel's age to go back to college and join a fraternity, to the best of our knowledge, Rachel is the first woman veteran to join a Panhellenic sorority. During recruitment at Alabama this year, it rained almost every day. This was a problem for many potential new members; however, it did not bother Rachel. If she got dropped from a house based on a disheveled appearance, she did not want to be there anyway. When choosing a sorority, all she knew was that she wanted to be somewhere she would feel comfortable and welcomed. Just like the rain, it did not bother her when she immediately got dropped from houses due to her age. She was drawn to Kappa Alpha Theta because they are known as leading women who have a strong sisterhood. Sisterhood comes naturally to Rachel because of the Air Force camaraderie she shared for six years. While this relationship was more of a physical bond that centered around saving one another’s lives, Rachel now enjoys her Theta membership because members encourage and support each other.

Rachel’s recommendation to other women veterans her age contemplating going back to college is to consider joining a sorority. She has seen firsthand that Theta has a been great help to her academic success and acclimation to civilian life.

Republished with permission from The Odyssey; read the full version.