After over 20 years in the military, Sgt. 1st Class Penny Mills, figured she had accomplished all her career’s goals while serving. But one still lingered — the dream of being selected to play softball for the All Army Team.
Mills has played softball all her life. At age 8, she realized that playing softball was not only fun, but a skill in which she really excelled. At age 41, the psychological operations noncommissioned officer from the Army Reserve’s U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command (Airborne), made the cut for the 2013 All Army Women’s Softball Team.
“I’ve been wanting to try out for so long, but never had the opportunity for a number of reasons,” explained Mills. “But my chain of command really supported me this time and after three years of putting in a packet, I was selected. I was super excited to be able to represent (my command). It’s a really big deal to me.”
Mills came into the Army in 1990 as a parachute rigger. For nine and a half years, she inspected, packed and jumped parachutes before making the decision to switch to military information support operations.
In 2006, she deployed to Iraq.
“I had a basketball scholarship before joining the Army, but school was demanding and I was afraid of losing the scholarship,” said Mills. “I didn’t want to leave the burden of paying for my education on my parents. I wanted to do it on my own. So I talked with my school counselor, who suggested the Army. And it was the best decision I made. I love it. I love defending our country, the camaraderie, and the lifestyle itself.”
Now, representing the 393rd Psychological Operations Company, 16th PSYOP Battalion out of Aurora, Ill., Mills headed to Fort Indiantown Gap, Pa., to begin her strict and vigorous training with the other 25 women selected from Army posts around the world. Only 15 women would make the final cut.
From sun up to sun down, the team lived, breathed and ate softball. The day started at 6:30 a.m., with a workout in the gym. Followed by field time and a short break for lunch with more batting and field practice in the afternoon.
After dinner, the team would play a doubleheader with other teams from the area. Weekends were full of travel and tournaments all over the country.
Keeping up with the hectic schedule was a little challenging for the 41 year-old rookie.
“I’m pretty proud of myself for hanging in there with the younger girls. I’m definitely the oldest rookie, second oldest on the team,” laughed Mills. “But the girls are sweet and look out for me. They make sure I don’t hurt myself.”
Mills knew being on the team would be physically tough and a challenge; before tryouts, she ran and worked out daily. She was also part of the travel league at Fort Bragg, participating in tournaments and hitting the batting cages regularly.
“I just had to make sure I was in great shape,” she said.
While on the team, Mills’ strong skill is pitching. When not pitching for the team, she plays first base.
“I’ve been pitching for about six years,” explained Mills. “Even though I am older, I’m still considered a rookie on the team. I am always learning something from the veterans. They’ve really helped me improve my batting. Just like in the military and in life, I’m learning something new every day. I came onto the team with an open mind and was willing to learn.
“I think we have a young, fast team,” said Mills, of her teammates. Adding that she is looking towards the future. “With me and (Lt. Col. Terri Andreoni) being the older players, we bring a lot of experience to the team. It’s really going to help us out. These girls come from all over the world. We’ve got some from Korea, Texas, Chicago ... We really have a lot of talent on the team.”
Skill, talent and experience paid off for the All Army Women’s Softball Team, as they pulled out the win over Air Force with a 6-3 score, giving them an 8-0 record. All Army swept through the series undefeated.
“You know, it’s really about the experience and meeting these girls. Making new friends. The camaraderie is just great,” said Mills. “I love everything about the game, but it’s really about the people you meet that make the experience worth the while.”