Rebecca Segal ’18 at the ROTC Commissioning Ceremony

The officer commissioning ceremony for Rebecca Segal ’18—Amherst’s first Army ROTC student in 20 years—was held at Johnson Chapel on Saturday as her family, fellow cadets from the UMass ROTC Minuteman battalion, President Biddy Martin, U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton and many members of the College community, including veterans standing at attention, looked on.

“Rebecca is not only the first, but she’s also a shining example of what’s possible,” said Martin in her remarks that day. Amherst and UMass worked together to create a pathway for Segal, who studied at the College and did her reserve officer training at the university.

The ceremony began with the Minuteman cadets marching up the center aisle in tight formation, some shouldering rifles, others carrying the battalion flag and American flag, as the army march “Bravura” played through speakers. Jewish Religious Advisor Bruce Bromberg Seltzer offered a blessing and then, surrounded by those in uniform, Martin rose to offer her congratulations.

She noted that, in 2016, Segal transferred from George Washington University, which has a strong ROTC program. “But she chose to come to Amherst because she had the ambition and desire to get the best possible education in a place where class sizes are small, academic standing is strong and she could be a neuroscience major,” said Martin, adding with a smile: “What she has done in her short time at Amherst is nothing short of incredible.”

Segal has “risen earlier than early” to do her training, while also maintaining rigorous coursework and being active in the Amherst Military Association, Martin said. “Despite our lack of experience, she has taught us what it means to support students like herself. We’re proud of what you’ve done and proud of what you’re about to do.”

Lt. Col. Stephen Magner, head of the Department of Military Leadership at UMass and adviser to the Minuteman Battalion, also spoke. He asked the audience to give Segal’s parents a round of applause since they are now “part of the army too.”

Segal did an internship in the Washington office of Rep. Moulton, a Massachusetts Democrat and decorated Marine veteran, who joined the Marines just before 9/11.

“She has a chosen a path that is as difficult as it is admirable,” said Moulton of Segal.

Segal next took the oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States.” She was commissioned as a second lieutenant, the army’s standard entry-level officer rank.

Then the pinning ceremony began. This was the big moment for Lynn and Michael Segal, of Chestnut Hill, Mass., who had been surprised to learn of their daughter’s military ambitions years back, shortly after her bat mitzvah.

At Johnson Chapel, nine years later, the Segals walked up to the stage and stood on either side of their daughter, who faced the crowd. Her mother pinned one insignia to Segal’s right shoulder, while her father pinned the other to her left. The young officer had kept a properly stoic expression for most of the ceremony, but after the pinning, all three Segals beamed at those assembled. 

At a commissioning, it is traditional for the brand-new officer to pick someone to honor with her first salute. Segal chose her second cousin Bill Appel, a Vietnam War army veteran, and the last in her family to serve in the military. Appel strode onto the stage and the two faced one another, squared their shoulders and gave each other a crisp salute. Then, as is also traditional, Segal presented Appel with a silver dollar.

As the ceremony concluded, and the cadets and officers marched out, the crowd sang John Philip Sousa’s “The Army Goes Rolling Along.”

This summer, 2nd Lt. Segal will be an active duty field officer doing leadership training at Oklahoma’s Fort Sill. She has praised Amherst administrators for helping her construct her unique path and took a moment to reflect on reaching today’s milestone: “Going into the military is not common where I come from, and I wouldn’t be here without the support of my friends and family. I hope that today helps normalize the process of going into the military while you’re at school.”