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Former Hills resident earns historic role at U.S. military academy

Grace Andrews
U.S. Army Photo by Master Sgt. Andrew Porch of the 25th Infantry Division/Special to the Town Crier
Capt. Grace Andrews, incoming commander, Lightning Academy, 25th Infantry Division, receives the unit guidon from Col. Josh Gaspard, operations officer, 25th Inf. Div., during a change of command ceremony on Weyand Field, Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, April 6.

A woman from Los Altos Hills honored more than a decade ago by a West Point appointment made history last week by becoming the first female commander of a U.S. military jungle warfare training school in Hawaii.

Following a nomination from her brigade commander and an interview process, Capt. Grace Andrews, 29, was selected as the Lightning Academy’s company commander for the 25th Infantry Division.

U.S. Army Col. David Neal Mayo said Andrews was his first choice for the position.

“Grace consistently demonstrates a unique ability to motivate subordinates, peers and senior leaders to work as one cohesive team to achieve a common goal,” Mayo wrote in an email to the Town Crier. “I’m confident Grace is the right person for the job, and she’s ready to take on this great responsibility.”

The Lighting Academy, located in Wahiawa on Oahu, specializes in jungle operations and air assault training for both Americans and foreign partners, especially those from the Indo-Pacific region. An early variation of the school started at the Schofield Barracks on the island in late 1942.

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Master Sgt. Andrew Porch, 25th Infantry Division/Special to the Town Crier
Capt. Grace Andrews, incoming commander of the Lightning Academy, 25th Infantry Division, delivers remarks during a change-of-command ceremony at Schofield Barracks in Hawaii April 6.

Lt. Col. J.P. Cross of the British Special Air Service once described the jungle instructor training program thus: “It is a state of permanent dampness, rain or sweat, of stifling, windless heat, of dirty clothes, of smelly bodies, of heavy loads, of cocked and loaded weapons, of tensed reflexes, of inaccurate maps, of constant vigilance, of tired limbs, of sore shoulders where equipment straps have bitten in.”

Andrews assumed her new role April 6 during a changing of command ceremony attended by her husband, Capt. Ayman Andrews, also a member of the military, and their 18-month-old daughter.

“I’m the first non-infantry commander too,” Andrews said during a Town Crier interview last week. “I didn’t really seek it out because I didn’t really think it was possible.”

Life of leadership

Andrews, the daughter of Lynn Hamilton and the late Tim Hamilton, was born in Massachusetts and moved to Los Altos Hills when she was 10. She is the eldest of four children.

“I have three younger brothers, so (that) definitely set me up for success within a very male-dominated field,” Andrews said in a video the 25th Infantry Division posted to Facebook March 31 for Women’s History Month. “I feel like I helped lead them in their childhood.”

Andrews, nee Hamilton, lived in Los Altos Hills until age 18, when she graduated from Gunn High School. She participated on Gunn’s swim team and the Palo Alto Stanford Aquatics team, specializing as a freestyle sprinter. After West Point recruited Andrews to swim for the school, U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA 18th District) appointed her in 2010 to attend the elite military academy. Andrews swam for West Point during all four years of her education there, becoming a team captain as a senior. She also met her future husband on the team.

“I fell in love with the school and serving after school and just being a part of something bigger than myself,” she said.

Prior to her most recent appointment, Andrews served as the Bravo Company commander of the 65th Brigade Engineer Battalion, a part of the 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division.

“I’m obviously just extremely honored to have been selected to command the Lightning Academy,” Andrews said. “It’s only because of the people I’ve had working for me in my previous company that set me up for success in my current job. So I’m just really fortunate.”

Andrews cites her mother, now a San Diego resident, as her inspiration. Lynn Hamilton became emotional when asked about the poignant designation.

“I feel so blessed to have a daughter who’s so strong and athletic and intelligent and extremely hardworking,” Hamilton said. “She’s become this amazing role model and leader for other women in particular but for the whole military community.”

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