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As her fellow soldiers catch some shut-eye in the middle of the night, Olivia Krytus ’26 remains alert, her eyes wide open during Fire Watch with the Army National Guard.

“You see it in the movies. You can't have a base completely asleep, so there are always two guards watching. We have an hour-long shift at any point during the night,” she explained.

A fulltime student at SUNY Potsdam, Krytus has forged a unique path by weaving together her academic interests with military service—a combination that has offset the cost of her education and given her the discipline to succeed.

“It is a very different world coming to college and realizing that you have so much freedom to do whatever you want and then saying, ‘I’m going to pass on that, but it’s probably going to be better for me.’ Sometimes I wonder if it was the right choice, but I feel like even in the few months that I’ve been enlisted so far, I’ve had a lot of personal growth. People talk about that all the time, how the military shapes who you are and gives you so many life skills, strengths, and mental fortitude that you can’t deny it’s life-changing,” she reflected.

After enrolling at SUNY Potsdam in the Fall of 2022, Krytus immediately selected two majors in business administration and psychology, a minor in dance, and then enlisted in the Army National Guard. During the Spring of 2023, just her second semester as a freshman, she was busy driving down to the Hancock Field Air National Guard Base in Syracuse, N.Y., for her required “one weekend a month, two weeks a year” military training. “We sleep on cots, we do Fire Watch in the early hours of the morning and then we wake up at 5 a.m. to do our physical training,” she said. “We also have classroom time, learn about the history of the Army, and learn about basic training where there's no contact with the outside world."

Right now, as her classmates are back home for the summer, she’s in the middle of 10 weeks of grueling basic combat training at Fort Jackson in South Carolina. Krytus has always been interested in serving her country and her family has had strong ties to the military with her grandfather serving in the Navy, and both her aunt and uncle in the Army National Guard. “I saw that it really kickstarted their lives when they didn’t know what to do,” she said.

As a classically trained dancer in her youth, Krytus said that the discipline from the ballet studio is very much in sync with the military mindset. “Ballet is very strict. I kind of need that discipline in my life to set goals for myself and feel like I’m accomplishing something. It’s easy to feel like you’re floundering at college, and as someone who is living on their own, the military really helps you set goals,” she said.With the ultimate plan of one day opening her own dance movement therapy studio, she has been interweaving her business, psychology and dance classes to make her dream a reality—all while serving in the Army National Guard. From business classes with Dr. Christa Haifley to psychology classes with Dr. James Fryer, she’s been strategically taking courses that align with her career aspirations.

“I definitely feel supported in my academics here at SUNY Potsdam. I really love Professor Fryer. He sent out an email at the beginning of the semester and said, ‘If you’re ever too anxious or too rundown to come to class, just sign in online, don’t stress about it, just get the work done.’ He provided a very good introduction to SUNY Potsdam for me."

Olivia Krytus ’26

Despite all the hard work and discipline, she has carved out time for one of her favorite activities: downhill skiing. As secretary for SUNY Potsdam’s ski and snowboarding club, she has helped to organize trips to Whiteface for her classmates, and helped students find affordable options to ski in the Adirondacks. “I love the outdoors. It's one of my favorite things about being here at SUNY Potsdam. It’s a 15-minute drive to a waterfall, a mountain, or a hike,” she said. “It’s gorgeous here, and the ski club has been really fun for me.  I think that’s what it’s all about, finding your group, and finding things you never had the opportunity to do at home."

As she enters her sophomore year this fall, her ambitious journey continues. “The National Guard always prioritizes college, and they cover my tuition,” she said. “It's very easy when you're in college to lose sight of your goals and I feel like the military is keeping me on track.”

Article and Photography by Jason Hunter