Senior Spotlight: Basketball sneakers and Army boots

Women's basketball player follows in brother's footsteps as member of United States Army

The military has been a part of Erin Joyce’s life for longer than she can remember.

Her brother, Chief Warrant Officer 3 Robert Joyce, has been in the U.S. Army since Erin was two years old.

It wasn’t until she got to college, however, that Erin began to consider the military life herself. Until then her focus was on basketball at Bishop Canevin High School, where her father, Tim, was her head coach.

Then, in January of her freshman year at Waynesburg University, Joyce started to think about wearing camo after an Army recruiter contacted her. By the middle of February, she had made up her mind, and was already starting the enlistment process

“My main [reason for joining] was it pays for school,” Erin said.

Aside from financial benefits, there were several other reasons why Erin wanted to pursue the Army.

She had always looked up to her brother, and listened with great interest to Robert explaining his past experiences, such as flight school and training abroad. A political science major, Erin has also been interested in the history of American wars, mainly World War II and the Revolution.

“I like being involved in something that helps people and is connected to my family history,” she said.

Erin had talked with her brother about the possibility of joining the Army, but those conversations didn’t lead to anything.

“I assumed her interest waned,” Robert said.

Not so. While he was in Afghanistan, during one of his four deployments, Robert got a text, alerting him that his sister was talking to a recruiter. When he called back to ask, he said Erin seemed dead set on what she wanted to do.

“At that point I knew it would be good for her and she’d be good for the Army,” he said.

The Joyce family reacted to the news in different ways. Robert was thrilled. Her father Tim wasn’t as excited, but supported the choice. Her older sister, Jennifer O’Shea, the girls basketball coach at Montour High School, was surprised, and her mother was scared.

The first major hurdle was basic training, which took place in Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri. At first, Joyce was terrified, but then, when she got used to the routine, she learned to love it. The routine can be described as, well, basic.

Every day, Joyce had to wake up at five for physical training. After breakfast came more training. After lunch, training again. Bedtime was at at 9.

Joyce went to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for round two of basic training last summer. After graduating in the class of 2020, she had planned on training in Fort Jackson, South Carolina, but like everything else in the world, this isn’t certain because of the coronavirus.

A large bulk of Joyce’s training for the last three years has been in her ROTC program, the West Virginia Mountaineer Battalion. Before the pandemic, this included three mornings of weekly physical training, two at Waynesburg, the other at WVU;, class at WVU one morning a week; and a lab at WVU on Thursday’s that ranged from two to four hours. Joyce also led meetings for younger cadets at least once a week, which also varied from two to four hours.

Joyce’s morning training required her to get up as early as 4:45 a.m. if she had to go to Morgantown, and it wasn’t unusual for her to have to do this after a Wednesday night basketball game.

A lot of what Joyce learned in basketball, particularly while playing for her father— where she won a WPIAL championship— has helped her in the military, especially in terms of understanding that the commanding officer is usually right.

“We kind of butted heads every once in a while, but I knew that [my father] was right at the end,” she said. “I think that kind of taught me that leadership knows what they’re doing, and to learn how to bite my tongue. It didn’t always work, but I tried.”

Her skills caught the eye of Waynesburg coach Sam Jones, who recruited her for three years before convincing her to come to Greene County. Jones remembers seeing Joyce as a player with a high basketball IQ, and that IQ made the Jackets a better team over her four years.

“When she was in attack mode and was distributing the ball well and shooting the ball, she made us a lot better for sure,” Jones said.

Joyce doesn’t know what lies ahead of her yet, as the pandemic has made searching for jobs tricky at best. She hopes to attend graduate school at Waynesburg, perhaps coaching basketball with her sister, and if she’s to continue in the reserves, she hopes to stay near home. But there’s always the possibility of her be deployed overseas, and Joyce is confident enough that she’ll be ready to adapt.

Overall, Robert is confident his sister will be prepared to take on anything the Army throws at her.

“When she commissions this spring the Army is fortunate to gain a capable young officer,” he said. “She’ll be a combat enabler in any unit she finds herself in.”

Joyce is thankful she chose Waynesburg, and although her current path isn’t what she envisioned four years ago, she’s excited for what’s ahead.

“I went into college with a plan and through all my experiences there, my plan is completely different than I thought it would be,” she said.