The Oak Ridge Military Academy (ORMA) is a co-ed military boarding school north of Greensboro, North Carolina. It is one of the eight co-ed military academies in the country, and prides itself on the school’s academic rigor, college preparation and leadership opportunities for students, also known as cadets.
The girls at ORMA are there for a myriad of reasons ranging from parental force to desiring a challenging college prep. school. Yet regardless of how these girls arrived at ORMA, each has traded in a high school experience with dresses, movies and parties for one filled with uniforms, rules and structure. They have boyfriends, wear makeup and gossip, but for officers, a prestigious rank earned by the school’s top seniors, their formidable teenage years come with the responsibilities of commanding their peers and ensuring order.
Engulfed in the male-dominated world of the military, these girls, making up less than a quarter of the student body, or platoon, must figure out their places as cadets, leaders, and young women.
Corporal Emily Hill, a junior, stands among the male cadets during an all-school assembly.
2nd Lieutenant Natalia Najera, a senior, rests against her boyfriend during literature class. Many of the senior female officers, like Najera, have boyfriends within the platoon, and must find a balance between their responsibilities and being teenaged girls.
The cadets stand at attention during lunch formation. The platoon does formation three times a day: at 6am, noon and 6pm. Formation is run by officers, a group of seniors who earn their ranks through a rigorous physical and academic process.
Captain Whitehead, a senior and second in command of the entire platoon, calls her mom in a moment of downtime. The cadets’ rooms must remain neat and tidy at all times, and are subject to inspection at a moment’s notice.
Private Samantha Mills, a sophomore, and CPL Hill leave campus twice a week for their horseback riding class. ORMA prides itself on strong academics, offering a wealth of unique programs such as equestrian and robotics.
PVT Mills braids her hair before morning formation. The male cadets are required to keep their hair cut short and neat. While the girls are not required to cut their hair, they must keep it structured and pulled back at all times except while in the dorms.
2nd lt. Najera sticks a flower in her uniform. As the female cadets are subject to the same dress regulations as the male cadets, they must express their femininity in other ways.
1st Lieutenants and seniors Caitlyn Lambe, Rihanna Davies-Smith and Stephen Davies- Smith, joke around during lunch. Certain privileges are afforded to the senior officers, including lax rules of the strict military school lifestyle.
2nd Lieutenant and Company Commander Jordan Taylor, a senior, leads the cadets as they get “smoked,” a process of intense physical training as a form of reprimand. As many cadets failed their surprise room inspections, the entire platoon, with exception of the officers, was forced into a smoke session immediately following dinner.
1st lt. Davies-Smith studies for an upcoming test with her fellow officers. The test involved a series of leadership scenarios and military history questions to determine if the officers moved up in rank.
Private Madison Lead, a serior, stands at attention during a school assembly. Each Friday afternoon, the school staff and cadets attend a mandatory assembly in the chapel where the President announces any news as well as rank promotions or awards among the cadets.
Capt. Whitehead makes sure that a younger cadet does proper pushups while other cadets in the dorm wait for room inspection. The cadet was ordered to do pushups because her room was not properly cleaned prior to room inspection.
The cadets rise at 5am each morning. PVT Mills and Private Samantha Chamberlain, a junior, hurredly get dressed before 6am formation. Like any teenaged girl, many of the female cadets wake up early each morning to put on makeup and fix their hair. The dorms at night are the only place and time where the cadets are allowed to wear non-uniformed clothing while on campus.
Capt. Whitehead waits for her turn to eat. As Captain, tradition mandates that she wait until the rest of the platoon has eaten before getting her food.