Few people can say they spent their summer aboard a warship in the Pacific Ocean, but Cadet Rukshana Sarkari ’24 can. Sarkari spent the summer with the USS Ronald Reagan nuclear-powered aircraft carrier battle group. Her journey started near the end July in Darwin, Australia, and ended in mid-August in Manila, Philippines.
Sarkari wanted to gain experience in both the surface warfare and nuclear power fields, and this summer training assignment offered an amazing and unique opportunity to do so. She experienced one week of conventional surface warfare exposure on a destroyer and a week of nuclear propulsion exposure on an aircraft carrier. While onboard with five other midshipmen from across the country, they collectively spent time on every deck and level of the ship. “We gained experience in various departments onboard and the operations of how everything and everyone is intertwined onboard,” she said.
This was Sarkari’s first year participating in a summer assignment. The 1st Class cadet, a Naval ROTC midshipman, will be commissioning into the U.S. Navy after graduation. “The most valuable thing I gained from this experience was to understand the emotional aspect of what it means to be an officer,” she said. “In the sense that as an officer, you do need to keep that professional relationship with your sailors, but to also remember that your sailors have a life outside of their duty station. That it is possible to be both compassionate and stern with your sailors together. In doing so, you can also build credibility with sailors.”
Her summer assignment will help her after she graduates in spring 2024. She’s set to commission as a surface warfare officer on the path to becoming an engineering duty officer. Of all the Navy communities, she said that surface warfare has a very strong mentorship and leadership focus.
“This skill and many others can translate to any part of my life, even beyond the military,” she said.
A Lifelong Dream
Since the age of 9, Sarkari knew she wanted to join the military. “To know that the moment I get to raise my right hand and pledge my life to this country is so close, I can hardly wait to see what I can do in my future,” she said. “Serving your country is the foundation of America; to know that not only am I surrounded by people who support my decision, but to be going into a profession that is built on servitude to others, I could not ask for more.”
She said growing up, she saw the loss of patriotism in her peers. She’s also seen a sense of pride and welfare for the country dwindle. If serving her country can revive that patriotism, then she’s more than willing to do that. “As a child of immigrant parents, I would not be where I am today if they did not have the option to come to America and study and fulfill what is the American dream,” she said. “I want nothing more than to protect that dream for generations to come. I want to be able to look back and tell my kids that this country can make anyone’s dreams come true. We are a country of opportunities, and if I don’t take my own opportunities, then how am I supposed to lead and help others to do the same?”
Gaining experience in the outside world gave Sarkari major insight into what her life will look like after VMI. “Coming from a senior military school, the day in and day out of life can sometimes make you forget what the outside world is like.” She said it was a helpful experience to “go out and experience what the real Navy is like and not the trial version at school.”
Highlights on Deck
Sarkari’s favorite part of the assignment was being on the flight deck or up on the bridge of the ship. She said that the Navy isn’t all about being at sea and watching other ships. “To an extent, it is, but to see the operations behind how the ship is maintained and maneuvered through the water was possibly the greatest thing,” she said.
Come May, she said, she will be beyond proud to swear in and take on the duty the country asks of her. She said her path in life is to lead and make a difference. “I am a part of the future generation of this country. I have always wanted to make a difference with my life, and even if it’s only for a small department on a ship in the middle of the ocean, those actions carry on, and I’ll at least be able to help someone else make a bigger difference,” she said. “I just want to be able to bring back what Americans fought and stood for and be a member of a country that fights for their people, a country that lends a helping hand to those in need and stands up for those who cannot do it themselves.”
Editor’s Note: Story originally published by Virginia Military Institute.
Laura Peters Shapiro VMI Communications & Marketing
Cadet Rukshana Sarkari '24 VMI NROTC Midshipman