For one former NFL cheerleader turned U.S. Army first lieutenant, 2014 has a lot to live up to.
Rachel Washburn, 25, closed 2013 as a Philadelphia Eagle’s “Hometown Hero,” an honor she was nominated for by her father, Lon, a former Army and Air Force pilot himself.
The honor does not seem out of place for the accomplished Washburn, her passion for public service is evident in many of her life choices since an early age.
Over the years and the many moves she endured as the child of a military member, Washburn gained respect for her father’s profession and felt drawn to an Army career.
Without a place to call “hometown,” Washburn followed an interest in history to the city of Philadelphia for her college years. She attended Drexel University with the assistance of a Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) scholarship, solidifying her future military commitment.
With a childhood of gymnastics behind her, in 2007, then college sophomore, Washburn auditioned to be an NFL cheerleader for her adopted hometown’s Philadelphia Eagles.
Despite never having attended a single cheer class, she was selected on her first tryout and cheered until 2010.
Between games, Washburn eagerly participated in Eagle supported, local VA hospital visits, as well as what she calls one of the greatest honors of her life, a USO tour to Iraq.
Following college graduation, Washburn enlisted in the military and wasted no time developing a decorated career. Her honors include, the Bronze Star Medal, the Army Commendation Medal and the Combat, Airborne and Air Assault Badges.
These honors have been truly earned; during her first tour in Afghanistan, Washburn helped deliver a baby during a snow storm. The only medical assistance she had access to, was via radio.
Washburn recently returned from her second tour in Afghanistan as part of the Army’s new Cultural Support Program.
This program placed Washburn in an integral position, attempting to locate and communicate with civilian women and children. This mission she found particularly fulfilling as it enabled her and her fellow military members to give a “voice” to those often unheard due to cultural gaps most operations can have difficulty bypassing.
The Cultural Support Program also required frequent mental toughness training, in which military personnel are encouraged to develop their mental “happy place.”
Washburn had little difficulty in finding hers between the white lines of the Lincoln Financial Field, on her first cheerleading experience back in 2007.
Happy to be “home” for the holidays and honored by her Philadelphia Eagles, in 2014 Washburn will return to her current station at Fort Stewart Ga., where she is serving as a platoon leader and considering re-enlisting for yet another tour of overseas service.
– Zoë Dean