Battalion Commander Reyna Defoe: Living in the Service of Others
Reyna Defoe is passionate about service. Her genuine concern for others and her desire to assuage others’ worries and fears emanates from her poised, confident frame. Defoe arrived at Oak Ridge Military Academy three years ago, traveling over 1,000 miles from her home in Bloomington, Minnesota. Since arriving, she has taken advantage of everything that the school has to offer. After three years, Defoe has advanced to her senior year. It’s progress that she has accomplished by staying on campus over the summers for additional coursework.
Defoe is as kind as she is motivated and as compassionate as she is intelligent. Not only exceeding academically, but she is also leading the Corps of cadets in her role as the school’s Battalion Commander (BC), the highest-ranking member of the Corps of Cadets, and she is doing it with grace and pride.
Leading with Heart
As the BC, Defoe is responsible for the entire Corps’ success and for leading all Battalion activities and fellow staff officers. The appointment was an honor that humbled the modest Defoe.
“I never thought that earning the Battalion Commander position was a possibility for me,” she said.
Last year, Defoe served as First Sergeant. She was responsible for the performance of every cadet in her company, assisting with disciplinary activities and ensuring all cadets are reporting for classes and military duties prepared to perform to the highest level. When asked what it means to serve as Oak Ridge Military Academy’s Battalion Commander, Defoe is effusive.
“It’s breathtaking,” she said. “Every day, I get up and think back to when I first came here. I remember all the times that I stood on the sidelines, thinking that one day, I wanted to see someone in the leadership staff who represented me. I wish there had been a female BC when I came, but now, I can be that mentor for other young women.”
Defoe was inspired and encouraged to lead by Oak Ridge’s previous Battalion Commander, Jiraphorn Noimanee.
“As First Sergeant, I watched Noimanee closely and the challenges that she faced. After learning from her, I knew that I’d be ready to lead.”
A Call to Service
Defoe is passionate about helping others in a way that transcends the responsibilities of her position.
“Working my way up through the ranks helped me to figure out how to help others,” said Defoe. As BC, I want to make sure that everyone is given the opportunities that they deserve and that they are treated the same and fairly evaluated as individuals.”
As the First Sergeant, Defoe took pride in her hands-on approach to caring for cadets and being a continual resource for their comfort and development. Now, as Battalion Commander, Defoe has had to learn to delegate some of the responsibilities of caring for fellow cadets to her other staff leaders.
“The First Sergeant role is hands-on,” said Defoe. “One of the biggest challenges of being the BC is stepping back from being directly involved in disciplining the cadets. I’ve had to learn to delegate those responsibilities. All I want to do is help people. Whenever I see someone going through a rough day, I want to ask them how I can help, but I know that others need to step up and help in those moments.”
Defoe also realizes that the scale of her responsibilities means that she has to learn how to impact as many cadets as possible, even if from afar.
“There is a bigger range of people that I need to take care of,” said Defoe. “I can’t check on everyone every day.”
Oak Ridge Military Academy Director of Admissions Major Robert Forde has seen Defoe elevate her leadership style to overcome this challenge.
“Becoming the BC, Reyna has come to understand the dichotomy of leadership. In particular, the necessity to lead from the front but also to delegate,” said Forde, who adds that Defoe has easily earned the respect of the Corps of cadets.
“Reyna is upholding our school’s military standards and traditions,” said Major Forde. “The cadets are responding to her every day. The Corps respects her. They respect her as a leader. She does what she has to do, and they are following her direction.”
Lessons in Leadership
Defoe talks with enthusiasm about the lessons she has learned about leadership during her time at Oak Ridge.
“The most crucial lesson that I’ve learned is when to talk and when to listen,” said Defoe. “I’ve had to learn how to take command presence. I’ve learned how to stand up straight, look people in the eye, and make my points clear.”
“Reyna brings such genuineness to the leadership of the Corps,” said Ms. Carolyn Wray, a teacher at Oak Ridge Military Academy. “She’s understanding but has that aspect of leadership that’s hard for people to manage—she’s firm. She has high expectations and is firm but fair and compassionate. These qualities make her a great articulator of students’ needs.”
Defoe has also had to learn how to balance her naturally gregarious personality with the authority expected of her position.
“The BC has to be serious. There is an image you need to project. I’m naturally a playful person, so I’ve had to learn when it’s okay to play around.”
According to Ms. Wray, the school has been just as good for Reyna as she has been for it.
“In a different school environment, someone like Reyna could get lost,” said Wray. “But what I love about Oak Ridge is that students like Reyna, who are natural leaders but haven’t yet had their leadership qualities tapped, are given chances to lead. It’s wonderful to see such students who’ve always had the desire to lead it in their heart, but never had a pathway excel in the classroom and JROTC.”
Inspiring the Next Generation of Female Leaders
Defoe is furtive about inspiring all of Oak Ridge’s younger cadets—but particularly the young women who, like her, are entering the military academy looking for a role model who will inspire them to lead with no expectations of ceilings or limits.
“Knowing that I have the opportunity to inspire other young women means the world to me,” said Defoe. “All I’ve ever wanted to do is pass my knowledge on to others. I will do everything that I need to do to help every cadet reach their fullest potential. The females here will be set for life. I’ll teach them what I needed to learn when I came here. I’ve always wanted to be someone needed by others, a mentor, someone who helps others solve their problems.”
It is no surprise that after graduating, Defoe hopes to pursue a career in service to others. She plans to study psychology and has already received early acceptance to two universities.
“I’ve always wanted to live in the service of others,” said Defoe. It’s a passion and a purpose that Oak Ridge Military Academy is fully fostering, enabling Defoe to reach her highest potential while she supports others who aspire to do the same.