On Post

Citizen Soldier: How an International VMI Cadet Serves

Cadet Claudia Distinto ’22 is one of VMI’s many cadet EMTs. She also helps with blood drives. An Italian citizen, Distinto cannot participate in the same service opportunities as her American counterparts. She is determined to serve others and has found ways to do her part through VMI’s many opportunities. Photo by Cadet Emma Flora ’22, VMI Alumni Agencies.

Cadet Claudia Distinto ’22 was born in Italy. Because of her mother’s position as an Italian diplomat, she moved to the Dominican Republic when she was 7 years old and then to Washington, D.C., when she was 13. During her junior year of high school, Distinto received a letter from VMI. The Institute’s high post-graduation employment rates and alumni network drew her attention and continue to resonate as she plans to for her civilian career.

“I decided to be a doctor when I was two,” Distinto said. “That really hasn’t changed.” Her willingness to help others runs deep within her – she has a selfless, sincere attitude toward serving others. Serving as an EMT has been one of the most meaningful experiences she’s had at VMI, reaffirming her future aspirations and increasing her determination to help others.

The cadet EMTs are one of VMI’s many clubs. They receive training in the summer and provide support during many events during the academic year – including rat training, NCAA games, club sports and ROTC training. The EMTs are also on call for any injuries that happen outside of scheduled activities. “They [are] always there,” Distinto said about the EMTs, “even if you can’t see them.”

While injuries do happen occasionally, Distinto said, sometimes EMTs simply provide reassurance. They are a source of support to those who are struggling with physical training activities. Sometimes, cadets believe they are physically unable to finish a challenging workout or activity. EMTs help those who are tempted to give up to have the confidence in their physical confidence to finish, giving emotional strength. As Distinto explained what the job of an EMT looked like, she remembered a recent experience.

One experience that stands out to Distinto happened during this year’s Breakout when she was assigned to a platoon of rats as their EMT. She ran at the rear of the platoon and stayed there until one of the rats began falling behind. Distinto stayed next to them and told the rat to keep moving forward – one step at a time. Then, second rat fell out of the formation. Distinto and the first rat caught up to the second fallout. As they passed, Distinto told the second rat, “Grab onto my backpack!” Both rats made it to the end of the day without giving up or stopping – even when it seemed impossible to keep going. This is just one glimpse of what cadet EMTs do every week. They are available to help those who get injured but also actively encourage those around them.

Aside from being an EMT, Distinto also serves through volunteering on the blood drive committee. Blood drives happen multiple times throughout VMI’s academic year and are sponsored by the American Red Cross. Blood donations go to hospitals all over the United States and are used in blood transfusions for procedures related to cancer treatment, trauma recovery and chronic disease. Many lives have been saved because of the blood available to patients from donors like the cadets at VMI.

Since she has spent extensive time in Europe, Distinto is not allowed to donate blood in the United States. This is frustrating for her because she wants to do her part and serve where she can. Though she cannot donate blood directly, she helps others in the process. Distinto assists in equipment set up and tear down and also cares for cadets who donate blood. Blood donors can feel lightheaded from their voluntary blood loss. She helps donors to eat and drink, ensuring a smooth donating experience.

With her heart for service, Distinto is proof that VMI’s concept of the citizen-soldier extends outside the United States and American citizenship. When she graduates, Distinto will bring VMI’s characteristic service above self beyond U.S. borders.