Alumna and Army Reservist Plays Key Role in Afghanistan
To hear Ashlee Barth ’07 tell it, working in the field of microbiology as she had since graduating from Cedar Crest College with a degree in biochemistry wasn’t a great enough challenge, which is why she signed up to be an Army reservist in 2010.
Not only did she join the service, but when it came time to choose her advanced individual training she opted to work as a mechanic on military vehicles—not exactly the stereotypical assignment for women in the military.
“I love to restore cars. I bought my first car—a 1985 Reliant K—for $200. My mom had an Aries K and I was able to take some of the parts and get (my car) moving, though every time I stopped it smoked profusely,” she said, as she fondly recalled her efforts to salvage her investment.
When the Pittsburgh native and Tamaqua resident was called to active duty to serve in Afghanistan in November 2011, she found herself moving from 20-year-old clunkers she hoped would run, to huge military vehicles that needed to function properly for the good of her fellow soldiers and their missions.
As the only woman in her unit outside of her battalion commander going out on missions, Barth served as the personal security officer for the battalion commander. As such, she served as a role model for women in Afghanistan who have been fighting for greater equality in their male-dominated country.
“We helped to open three or four schools, a hospital, and eight (water) wells while I was there,” said Barth proudly. “At one of the schools—an all-girl’s school—the principal came up to me as I stood in full body armor and a rifle and said, ‘Thank you. You have shown the females here that there is hope that one day in Afghanistan females can be equal.’”
Barth, an Army Sergeant, recounted this story recently as she visited Cedar Crest College after her one-year tour of duty. Among other highlights, she had an opportunity to speak with Assistant Nutrition Professor Barbara Carlson, who served as a captain in the Army Medical Specialist Corp during the Vietnam era. The two recalled their experiences in the military, and expressed a mutual admiration for one another.
Ashlee Barth and Professor Barbara Carlson during her recent visit to campus.
“My Army buddies are still my best friends,” said Carlson. “As a mom, I’d love to have all of you home but as a veteran, I realize all the good work you are doing.”
Barth also dropped in on a lab class taught by Amy Reese, associate professor of biological sciences and an influential teacher for Barth during her time at Cedar Crest.
“She was a fascinating student who was likely to think out of the box in a lively and constructive way. She was so capable and had such a wide range of interests—I knew she would do things,” said Reese.
There’s no question that Barth is “doing things,” and while the jury is still out on what she may do next, it promises to be an interesting and exciting journey.