BOLTON LANDING - A former cheerleader and softball pitcher at Bolton High School is headed off overseas next month to serve for a year in Iraq as a soldier in the U.S. Army.
Kaila French, 18, the daughter of Bernie and Lisa French, is a private in the 543rd Military Police Company, stationed at Fort Drum.
Friday, French was introduced to the Warren County Board of Supervisors, who wished her the best in her endeavor and paid her tribute for her service to the country. After the meeting, she was greeted by many well-wishers in attendance.
A member of Bolton's Class of 2008, Kaila was captain of the Bolton Central Cheerleading squad, and was for three years a standout pitcher for the school's softball team.
In her junior year, when she was one of the team's three pitchers, the team was undefeated in the regular season.
During those for high school years she was studying, cheering at basketball games and hurling fastballs, she was also considering service in the Army, she said Monday.
"I knew it was the best position for me, because I'm a very structured person," she said. "It was a good career choice because I want to get into law enforcement."
At the age of 13 or so, Kaila announced her intentions to her parents, Bernie and Lisa French.
It was quite a surprise, Kaila's father said.
"Years ago, Kaila sat us down and said she didn't want to go to college but wanted to go into the service," Bernie French said. "She never changed her mind since."
During the first semester of Kaila's senior year, she signed up in the Army's delayed entry program, she said.
"I felt that serving my country was something I had to do," she said.
In July 2008, she left Bolton for basic training.
Her choice to serve in the military follows a family tradition, she said.
Her father served in the Army for three years during the 1980s - in Texas and Germany - and her grandfather Lyle French of Diamond Point faced combat in World War II. He was among the soldiers in the second wave of the Battle of Normandy, Kaila said.
"I know my serving overseas makes my grand-dad proud," she said, referring to Lyle, who was a police officer in Bolton for 17 years. "I'm the first female to go from our family, and it's a big step."
Kaila French said she wasn't particularly worried about the hazards of combat in Iraq.
"It's my job," she said. "It's what I chose to do."
She added that she was intrigued to learn about foreign traditions and lifestyles in Iraq.
"It may take a few weeks to get used to all the sand and the heat," she said. "However, I'm looking forward to learning about a different culture and seeing how other people live."
But Kaila's father said Monday he had mixed feelings concerning her going into combat. He's proud of her courage, of course, but he has reservations, he said Monday.
"I guess I'm a little afraid, but she's doing what she wants to do - she's talked about this since she was 13."
Regardless of his reservations, Lyle said he was behind her decision 100 percent.
"My wife and I are extremely proud of Kaila, and it's great that everyone in town says they're proud too," he said. "Kaila has a good head on her shoulders, and she will do fine - everything she's ever attempted she's succeeded at."