She’s Different


She’s a member of JROTC, is Alpha Company Commander, excelled in statewide competitions, played soccer, was a cheerleader, and is a public speaker.

And she has no arms.

Donavia “Angel” Walker was born with bilateral amelia, an extremely rare condition. She learned early the importance of tenacity and self-reliance; her mother told her when she struggled, “If you’re not going to do it, then it’s not going to get done.” When she decided to join JROTC in her freshman year at Winter Haven High School in Florida, Senior Army Instructor, retired Sgt. Maj. Rudy Carter commented, “When she walked through the door, from day one I’m like, ‘Man, if she stays here I can make a leader out of her.’”

And he has stood by her all the way.

In addition to being a cadet captain, she has repeatedly demonstrated her determination:

Walker has taken part in statewide competitions through her high school career. The large collection of trophies in the school’s JROTC room includes one she earned for second place for — appropriately — female unarmed squad.

Carter now uses Walker as a recruiter for the program. Students who walk the hallway outside the JROTC room will see an oversized, cardboard image of a smiling Walker in her uniform, along with the message, ‘JOIN JROTC! NO ARMS NEEDED!’

Although they have made some accommodations for her, some of those sound more difficult than the regular requirements!

Carter and his assistant, retired Sgt. First Class Ron O’Bryon, employ some modifications for Walker. For example, when other cadets do pushups during drills, she does squats. Walker can carry a rifle holstered over her shoulder, though as a squad commander she marches and gives orders to other cadets.

Walker gives Carter foot taps in lieu of salutes or handshakes.

Last summer, Walker joined cadets from throughout Florida at the JROTC Cadet Leadership Challenge at Camp Flaming Arrow in Lake Wales. She insisted on doing most of the available activities, such as rappelling up a 40-foot tower, doing archery and taking part in Navy SEAL-style training.

‘That was so much fun, rolling around in the dirt,’ she said.

Walker even did pushups, using her head as a balancing point.

For anyone questioning the goals and expectations of JROTC, participants are not required to join the military after high school, nor is it a military preparation class:

‘That is not the mission of JROTC at all; the mission is to prepare children to become better citizens,’ says retired Maj. Trina Tilque, an Army JROTC instructor at Statesville High School in North Carolina.

For a description of JROTC, in the US and all over the world, go here.

Angel Walker has inspired many students by her courage and leadership. She has amazing dexterity and can do almost anything with her feet, from eating, tying her shoes, brushing her teeth, and even driving a car.

Carter made this comment about her as Angel plans to graduate and go to college:

‘It’s sad, but I’ve been very fortunate and blessed that I was a part of it,’ he said. ‘It’s one thing to have a student who transforms the program; it’s another thing to have one who really changes the world.’

In a world when young people crave safe spaces and make their demands known, it’s reassuring to see a diminutive 5’2″ woman not only holding her own but who insists on making a difference.

Published in Education
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There are 3 comments.

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  1. Stad Coolidge

    Incredible gal!  I think I’ll stop complaining about my carpal tunnel . . .

    • #1
  2. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn

    Stad (View Comment):

    Incredible gal! I think I’ll stop complaining about my carpal tunnel . . .

    Really! Actually, since we are all preoccupied with the virus, I thought it would be a good idea to see someone who has real challenges in her life. She is an inspiration! Thanks, Stad.

    • #2
  3. EB Thatcher

    What a wonderful story!

    • #3
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