Pursuing Her Passions

What’s a West Point graduate doing in the College of Veterinary Medicine?

If you are Graciela Orantes you are pursuing your passion.

Like many of her vet med classmates, Orantes has long had a desire to be a veterinarian. Her detour to her ultimate goal took her to the U.S. Military Academy in West Point and then more than seven years in the Army. Now a captain in the U.S. Army Reserves, Orantes spends most of her days at Iowa State.

“I knew going to West Point was going to delay my goal of becoming a veterinarian,” the second-year student said. “But I wasn’t going to turn down a West Point appointment.”

During her seven-plus year stint in the Army, Orantes served two overseas combat deployments and commanded a medical company at Fort Benning.

“While I have always had a passion for animals, I learned a lot about public health while in the military,” she said. “Now I believe I can combine my passions of taking care of both animals and soldiers.”

As her commitment to the Army neared its completion, Orantes began looking to vet schools. During her search she would ask service members who were also were veterinarians where they studied.

“Every time I met an Army vet I asked them where they graduated from,” she said, “and I was actually deployed when I applied to vet school.”

She ultimately selected Iowa State thanks to a recommendation from Michael Bellin (DVM ’07), an Army veterinarian.

After she graduates, Orantes will continue in the Army for three years through the Army Health Professions Scholarship Program. The scholarship funds her last three years in vet school. And even with more than seven years in the military already, she says it was an easy call.

“It wasn’t a difficult decision,” Orantes said. “It’s a financially sound decision for me because this way I can take care of my mom and the scholarship provides money for our housing.”

Orantes’ military background was also a reason why she was chosen as one of the four inaugural recipients of a special AVMA/American Veterinary Medical Foundation scholarship. The $1000 scholarship was established in honor of President Woodrow Wilson’s signing of the National Defense Act of 1916 and the creation of the U.S. Army’s Veterinary Corps.

Along with her mother and a sister, Orantes now calls Ames home, even though she still owes the Army one weekend a month as part of her Reserves commitment. During her first year in vet school, her commitment sometimes came at the worst possible time for Orantes.

“I took two tests on the Monday after my drill weekend without having a chance to study for them,” she said. “I’m still here because I was able to pass despite the lack of preparation.”

And she’s still in the Army.

“In addition to passing my tests, I also passed PT (physical training),” she said with a smile. “That was pretty difficult too.”