Less than two years after graduation, Elizabeth Trobaugh found herself in the high desert of eastern Afghanistan. She was one of the first women in “combat arms” in her infantry battalion. Her mission: to lead a seven-soldier Female Engagement Team in building relationships with local Afghan women as part of the army’s effort to bring social and economic stability to the country.
“We were the best team!” says Elizabeth. “We started a women’s sewing co-op, sent Afghan women to higher-level education programs, ran a radio station with a call-in program, resourced over 10,000 school supply kits, collected all sorts of information on sources of instability, and aided in the identification of two high-value targets.”
To achieve these successes, enemy fire was not the only challenge Elizabeth had to overcome. “Being in an all-male battalion was no easy task,” she explains. “People spoke rudely of me and it was difficult to get their support for the courses of action I wanted to implement. I had allies, however, and more importantly, I learned from Mills to speak even when my voice shakes and to be the best-researched person in the room. When people did start implementing my courses of action, I blew them out of the water with what I knew was possible.”
Elizabeth has continued to excel since completing her tour of duty in Afghanistan. She passed airborne school and became a paratrooper. After leaving active duty, she entered Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs to pursue a master’s degree in international security policy with a focus on gender public policy. She was named a Pickering Fellow, an honor that provides financial support and a path to enter the US Department of State Foreign Service.
“Mills opened my eyes to the importance of helping people in the right way,” she says. “I learned that you need to walk into dire situations and ask, ‘How can we help?’ and work in partnership.”