Female Cadet Leaders at ORMA Aim to Excel and Inspire Future Generations of Young Women


Driven. Compassionate Kind. Motivated. Benevolent. 


These are just some of the words that best describe the female cadet leaders at Oak Ridge Military Academy. Guided by Jiraphorn Noimanee, a cadet honored not only to be counted among the Cadre of battalion commanders throughout Oak Ridge’s 168-year history but one who has rightfully earned her place among a smaller segment of the school’s female battalion commanders. For Noimanee; however, her expectation is that female leaders at Oak Ridge will soon enough no longer be considered an infrequency.


“Being in this role motivates me to inspire young girls to become stronger, more independent women,” Noimanee said. “I love telling my story to younger cadets. I want to motivate and inspire the women around me to be better and do better.”


A Powerful Transformation

Noimanee came to the United States with her family from Thailand at age ten. Now in her fourth year at Oak Ridge, she reflects on why she chose to enroll in a military school environment.

“I wanted a better environment for my education,” she said. “I have always loved and respected the military ever since I was a little girl. I appreciate the organization that a military environment provides, and I wanted to experience it.”


Even though Noimanee was confident in her choice to enroll at Oak Ridge, she did not arrive for her first day on campus with the confident belief that she would one day serve as the top-ranking cadet in the Corps. 

“When I first started at Oak Ridge, I was extremely shy and quiet,” said Noimanee modestly. “It took a while before I was able to come out of my comfort zone.”


Oak Ridge has long been at the forefront of gender equality. It has consistently admitted female cadets since 1971. In 1992, it selected its first female Battalion Commander, a position that is chosen by a committee of school leaders that include the school’s Commandant, JROTC instructors, and the Headmaster. 


Today, Noimanee credits the experience of earning leadership opportunities throughout her first three years at Oak Ridge for giving her the confidence she needed to realize her full leadership potential.



“All I ever wished for and dreamed was to be able to be a leader and help people, but I never thought I could be the Battalion Commander,” Noimanee recalls. “I wasn’t qualified. I knew myself. I knew I was shy. I didn’t stand out, but earning leadership roles and going through Cadre changed me. Today, I’m a completely different person. I still want to help and inspire people, but I’m no longer too scared to speak my mind.”


Inspiring Fellow Leaders

First Sergeant Reyna Defoe, a cadet in her second year at Oak Ridge, describes seeing Noimanee earn the position of Battalion Commander as “otherworldly.” 


“It makes you feel like you can do anything,” said Defoe. “It’s been a while since Oak Ridge had a female Battalion Commander, and so it honestly didn’t cross my mind that it would happen this year. For Noimanee to be the first Battalion Commander in a long time is amazing because it makes me think, now I can do it too. It’s so inspiring. She’s such a good person, and I can’t explain how great it makes me feel.”

Like Noimanee, Defoe was self-motivated to make a proactive change to her high school education path.


“It was entirely my decision,” Defoe says of her choice to enroll at Oak Ridge. “The idea never crossed my Mother’s mind until I told her that I wanted to go to a Military School. I wanted a change. I wasn’t a bad kid, but I wasn’t good either. I knew I could do better. I wanted to do something more.” 


Like Noimanee, it did not take long for Defoe to embrace the opportunities that Oak Ridge presented to her. Today, as the Corps of Cadets’ First Sergeant, Defoe is responsible for supervising and leading the cadets in her company.


“It was hard for me at first,” recalls Noimanee. “Before I came here, I was a selfish person. I wasn’t motivated at first to help other people. Of course, I wanted to help, but I’d have to push myself. Now, I love it. I love helping people through their problems. I’m an empathetic person. I can’t say that I’ve been through half of what others have been through, but I can say that I will be there for them.


Emily Waite from Blairsville, Georgia, is a first-year junior at Oak Ridge, and she too is inspired seeing young women like Noimanee and Defoe leading the Corps.


“I think it’s really good because the Battalion leaders are usually mostly male. Seeing a female Battalion Commander is good for women who want to achieve higher ranks.”

Waite feels the culture of support and helpfulness that female leaders like Noimanee and Defoe are working to strengthen.


“Moving to a military school was hard at first,” says Waite. “But the people here are nice, and they will help you with your challenges. They will help you if you’re having a hard time.”


Lessons Learned as a Leader

About halfway through her academic year serving as Oak Ridge’s Battalion Commander, Noimanee has already learned valuable and practical lessons of leadership that she will take with her when she graduates.


“I’ve learned not to take things personally. I’m genuinely a nice person, so that was a challenge at first, but I’ve learned that I can be assertive and still be kind. I love getting to know each and every cadet, and I love the diversity at Oak Ridge. I’ve also learned to hold my leadership style and not let others try to influence my approach. For me, if someone in my Corps is suffering, I will suffer with them. If everyone is doing PT, I will get down and do it with them. If I can’t do something, why should I ask others to do it?”



Today, Noimanee summarizes what it means to be a leader in one word. 


“Sacrifice,” she says firmly. “Being a leader is a big responsibility, and you have to make sacrifices. You’re the first one up, the last one out the door, and when your cadets eat first, you eat last. Leadership means selfless service and sacrifice.”

Looking Ahead to a Brighter Future

While Noimanee believes that attending Oak Ridge will benefit her future as a young woman pursuing a career, what is more important, is helping to cultivate a society in which gender is no longer a factor in what people believe a person can accomplish.


“I know that people see gender as a problem. People see a woman and think that women can’t do everything that men can do. When people say that to me, I tell them, ‘I can get down. I can do all the same PT. I can do anything I want if I put my mind to it.’ I wouldn’t have been able to do half the things I’ve done here if I didn’t believe in myself. In life, you have to keep going. You can’t let something stop you from living your life. Eventually, I don’t think people will still see gender as a problem. I forget that people think that way, but I think that will change.”


After graduating from Oak Ridge, Defoe hopes to pursue a career in psychology so that she can continue comforting and caring for others. Waite hopes to obtain business and choreography degrees and follow her passion by pursuing a teaching career in dance. For Noimanee, after graduating, she intends to continue her military education, and also hopes to continue serving and inspiring others.


“I plan to enlist in the military,” she says with a smile that is as tangible as it is contagious.



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