Erin Mauldin Profile
Second Lt. Erin Mauldin (New Mexico & Linacre, 2014) majored in International History at the United States Military Academy and is currently completing the MSc in Economic and Social History at the University of Oxford. She is a Truman Scholar and the first American woman to graduate from the French Commando School. Erin is also a member of the Oxford varsity women’s rowing team.
Rhodes Project: What is it like to train with Oxford’s varsity rowing team this year?
Erin Mauldin: It’s really exciting to be a part of a team where the other members are all stronger, taller and faster than I am. I feel like I’ve been challenged to try to keep up the entire time – which is making me a better athlete – and I’m really excited to be surrounded by these women. It’s also very different to be on a team of all women, having come from a military academy where I was on a lot of co-ed teams. It’s cool to find a professional group of women who train really hard.
Rhodes Project: Had you rowed previously?
Erin Mauldin: No, I’d never rowed before.
Rhodes Project: How did you get on the team, and what is their training schedule like?
Erin Mauldin: I had a mentor at West Point who rowed for Yale and Oxford and she convinced me that rowing was a sport I ought to try. When I learned that I was going to Oxford, I thought, “Great! I get to row in Britain.” My professor knew the head coach, so I interviewed with her and worked on indoor rowing over the summer and started training with the team in the fall.
The training schedule is about two times a day with Thursdays off – we’ll do a mix of land training (erging, weightlifting or running) and then we’ll have outings on the water three times on weekdays in the morning or afternoon and on both Saturday and Sunday.
I’m an alternate for the reserve boat in the April Boat Race against Cambridge. There are 18 women on the team at this point, and eight will race in the Blue Boat on April 11th. There will be eight in the reserve crew, called Osiris, who race on April 10th. I am one of the remaining two who serve as alternates.
Rhodes Project: How has rowing with the team changed your first year here in Oxford?
Erin Mauldin: I have definitely taken up rowing as a full time job here and enjoy the structure and cohesion that it provides. It’s also quite fulfilling and satisfying because I’m making progress in a sport that I’ve never done before with people who are similarly dedicated, passionate and willing to train hard. It’s great to be part of that community. I am also glad to be part of a team with a mix of undergraduate and graduate women and Brits and non-Brits who I probably would have never met otherwise. Rowing has helped to provide focus to what sometimes feels like a very unfocused Oxford experience.
Rhodes Project: What are you studying this year, and how does that fit into your plans post-Oxford?
Erin Mauldin: I’m doing the MSc in Economic and Social History this year, and I’m interested in using environmental approaches to better understand other aspects of history – including military history. My focus is on nineteenth century British military colonial expeditions in Afghanistan. I hope to better understand how the environment impacted decision-making and actions in the war as well as how resource use intersected with the local communities where military campaigns were occurring to better understand the different experiences and the extent of the wars.
I find history to be a useful analytical framework to understand how people have made and currently make decisions, which I think is useful for problem solving in current situations (especially in the Army). Next year I will likely extend the MSc to the MPhil programme to be able to go more in depth on my thesis topic.
After Oxford, I owe 6 years as an officer in the U.S. Army. My branch assignment is currently as an engineer. When I finish I’ll go to the basic officer course for my branch, and then I’ll be assigned to my post.
Rhodes Project: You’ve mentioned in several interviews that you’d like to join the infantry when you graduate, but it’s a role still closed to women in the United States. Can you elaborate on why the infantry, and what you think it will take for the American military to be open to that kind of conversation?
Erin Mauldin: What I find exciting is that we are having those conversations right now in the armed forces in the U.S., and that women are already contributing to the opening of previously closed positions. Unless services submit an exception, all positions in the U.S. armed forces will be open to women by 2016 - that includes positions in infantry, armour, and special forces in the Army.
As brief background, in 2013, then Secretary of Defence Panetta announced the end of the direct ground combat exclusion rule, which had roots in 1948 legislation and was codified in its specific form in 1994. The rule kept women from being assigned to units whose primary mission is to engage in direct combat on the ground. Despite the rule, women have participated in combat type missions – for example as members of cultural support teams or as part of medic, engineering, or transportation units attached to combat teams. The lifting of the ban will enable women to directly contribute to ground combat units. Currently, women in all services are being integrated in all types of units and training. For example, women will be allowed to attend Ranger School for the first time in April 2015, which is a challenging combat leadership course. I am rooting for everyone going through that first class – and the following ones.
I want to be in the infantry because I want to contribute to the mission of the infantry – which is direct engagement with the enemy on the ground. I think I bring the ability to make tactical decisions within the context of the broader operational and strategic picture. I would also like to go to Ranger School for the opportunities it provides for small-unit leadership work, confidence, and technical soldier skills. I don’t want to do any of these things for the sake of trailblazing. I think it is important for women to be a part of combat units, but only because they legitimately want to contribute to them and can meet the standards expected of everyone in such positions.
Rhodes Project: What inspires and motivates you?
Erin Mauldin: I try to live by the idea that I have to be able to go to sleep with myself at night and be able to wake up with myself in the morning – and I’m the arbiter of that, recognizing that I have to constantly re-examine what I mean by it. What drives a lot of what I do is my desire to give back to the communities that have shaped me. I try to work very hard at whatever I do and think through the impact of my actions and their larger ramifications. I’m also incredibly curious about the world and am passionate about the interests that stem from that curiosity. In sum, it’s a mixture of curiosity and passion and a desire to contribute.
Rhodes Project: Who are some of your role models and mentors, in the military or otherwise?
Erin Mauldin: There are several instructors at West Point whom I consider very close mentors and who I look up to tremendously - both civilian professors and military officers. The first that comes to mind is my history professor who got me into rowing – Professor Jennie Kiesling. She’s been teaching at the military academy for 20 years, and is intensely physical, critical of how we think about things in the military, and always probes me with tough, thoughtful questions. My thesis supervisor, Professor Thomas Nimick, also made a tremendous impact on my academic perspective and helped me to work through leadership and ethical challenges.
Here at Oxford, it’s been wonderful to learn from my two rowing coaches, Christine Wilson and Natasha Townsend. They have created a sense of discipline, professionalism, and pride in one’s craft within the team that I hope to emulate in the future. And they have inspired me to work hard not just for them, but to not disappoint myself.
Rhodes Project: What political or social issues (in the United States or elsewhere) have caught your interest lately?
Erin Mauldin: Last summer I worked in the State Department and it was a wonderful opportunity to gain insight into a very different type of federal government organization and see the intersection of foreign policy and energy in the U.S. What I realized is that support for diplomatic efforts is inconsistent across the U.S. government.
As a member of the Armed Forces, I recognize that it’s really important for we have strong diplomacy to ensure the Armed Forces are used effectively. I’d like to work more on how the Armed Forces are integrated into smarter regional strategies and smarter diplomatic relations – I currently don’t think we are leveraged as effectively as we could be. It’s an issue of how the U.S. interacts with the world and ensuring the Department of Defense is using military power strategically as a diplomatic tool.
I’d also like to work more on our relationship to the environment. I’m not sure that I’ll be at the forefront of the climate change debate, but I’m particularly passionate about living sustainably at the local level – even military bases.
I’m also particularly interested in fraught police tensions in the United States at the moment – it’s not an issue I’m working on directly, but it’s definitely an important social and political issue for us. Police and military perception are often similar and it’s a big question – how to bridge community tensions to realize shared interests.
Rhodes Project: What book(s) have been particularly transformative for you?
Erin Mauldin: I’d say my top three most influential books have been fantasy books: Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, The Deed of Paksenarrion by Elizabeth Moon, and the Protector of the Small series by Tamora Pierce. I realized after I decided to go to West Point that all these books feature warrior characters. The discussions of courage contained in those books in particular resonated with me.
On a very different level, the book The Big Necessity was also very influential for me. The book is about sanitation and how we deal with its taboo in different societies – and how not talking about it exacerbates the challenges it poses. It catalysed me to act at West Point to address sanitation issues and made me think about access to clean water differently.
Rhodes Project: What does leadership look like for you – perhaps in both a military and athletic context?
Erin Mauldin: I think one of the most important aspects of being a leader is being authentic to yourself. It means you have to be consistent with what you value and it has to be organic. I also think it’s important to lead with integrity, a commitment to what you’re doing, and a sense of openness. Integrity has to be the baseline – you have to be honest, particularly with yourself so that you can be honest with and trusted by others. Commitment has to underline your behaviour – I see that all the time in rowing. It has to be clear to everyone around you, yourself included, that you’re devoted to what you’re doing. I also value openness in leadership, which means being willing to listen, accept coaching, and follow when necessary. In the armed forces, this means being open to feedback from your subordinates as they might know what’s going on better than you do. This is how I would define and epitomize leadership.
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