By Alexandra Orellana, Broadside Correspondent

Katesha Biagas, a Florida native and George Mason University student, starts her day at 4:30 a.m. The 31-year-old public administration major dons on her full Army combat uniform and heads to campus, ready for a physically and intellectually stimulating day.

Biagas is a sergeant in the U.S. Army and a student in the Reserve Officer’s Training Corps. As she walks around campus, she hardly goes unnoticed. Her boots alone weigh approximately two pounds each.

“At first I just want[ed] to blend in,” Biagas says. “But then, when I wear my fatigues and people constantly stop me and say ‘thank you for your service,’ it makes [me] feel good.”

Biagas joined the Army at age 22. She had completed a few semesters of community college but quit for economic reasons. She was recruited at a Walgreens pharmacy, where she was working full-time to support herself.

The Army paid for Biagas’s education and she soon completed her associate degree in radiology. Upon being deployed to Iraq in 2008, the Army placed her as a non-commissioned officer in charge at Camp Adder in Tallil, Iraq.

“I had two soldiers under me,” she said. “Even though I was the manager, I put myself on the regular schedule. I did that just to keep morale [up].”

The Army’s primary appeal is its economic incentive, but a lifestyle of discipline and adventure is equally attractive.

Biagas, and fellow Mason students Grant Zivan, Eddie Castaneda and John Holland, all considered a career with the Army for similar reasons: they sought an education and a challenge.

For some, the Army delivered.

“There’s a big difference between me being right out of high school and [thinking] ‘Oh I’m in college, cool, let’s do this or that,’” said Grant Zivan, a 22-year-old cadet from Fairfax. “Now, [I just think] ‘I have a job to do. People are depending on me. I have to get it done.’ It’s really cool having this kind of responsibility. I go to bed at 11 p.m. I wake up at 5:50 a.m.”

Before joining the Army, Zivan also worked at a pharmacy. He was the average college student. But he also faced economic difficulties paying for college. He worked 9 to 5 as a supervisor at a CVS pharmacy in Fairfax.

After his first semester at Mason, Zivan decided to seek out the Army as a way of paying for college. He had tried to enlist right after high school, but was dissuaded by his parents.

“I have no regrets,” he said of the lifestyle he chose. “The idea of working 9 to 5 on a civilian job scares me more than getting shot at.”

But Zivan is not in it just for the thrill.

“I have been on the Dean’s List every single semester since I’ve been a cadet,” said the history major. “You have officers teaching you that have actually been there and done it. I feel like if I get bad grades I’m letting them down.”

For Zivan, the Army has provided the fulfillment he was looking for. He receives the intellectual motivation to succeed academically and the adventure that his old life lacked.

Zivan currently spends his summers in rigorous officer training programs. He attended cadet field training at West Point Military Academy upon joining the Army.

“It was the coolest thing I have ever done in my entire life,” Zivan said.

In a typical male’s fascination with war, Zivan is eager to see combat. He acknowledges the reality of his situation. He could soon face deployment to Afghanistan, a region of unrelenting danger and instability.

Yet fears don’t plague Zivan. As he sees it, obtaining combat experience is the only way to earn respect as an officer.

“I’m looking forward to it,” he said with excitement. “If you’re a new lieutenant and you don’t have the combat patch on your shoulder, you’re not going to get much respect. The sooner the better to get that experience and get that respect.”

But the Army is no such thing as one-size-fits-all.

Castaneda, a 19-year-old sophomore and psychology major from Fairfax, also looked at the Army as means of financing his college education. He eventually desisted.

“I thought of the consequences,” he said of his decision to ultimately not pursue a career with the Army. “My mom [doesn’t support it and] is afraid of losing me.”

Though Castaneda agrees that he could benefit from the Army’s discipline, he also believes the decision to be responsible lies within each person.

“I’m responsible enough,” he said. “The risk [is] too much for me. I’m the first person to go to college,” he adds, reflecting on his mother’s fears.

Holland, a government and international politics major also considered joining the military his freshman year at Mason.

“It crossed my mind,” he said, of his intention to join the ROTC program. “It didn’t work out. It was difficult on my schedule and my parents are against me joining the military.”

The Army is often a last resort for students in need of tuition assistance. Discipline and responsibility are an unintended byproduct.

But the benefits don’t stop there. A monthly stipend and a fit body are perhaps enough to close the deal.

“There is gratification,” Biagas said. “I love that when I [dress up] my body is so fit. I just love that.”

As for the extra attention, Zivan says it is matter of pride.

“I love that. I absolutely love it,” he said through a wide smile. “I don’t want to blend in. I’m glad that it sets me apart because I am putting so much time and effort and sacrifice that I want to be recognized for it.”