LTC Pricilla Van Zanten, second from left, celebrated her retirement with daughters Brianna, Kiki and Mimi, and husband, Kent.Submitted photo

Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Pricilla Van Zanten’s journey began 35 years ago when she migrated to the United States with her family from Jamaica in search of a better life, better education, and more opportunity. The family settled in Evanston, where LTC Van Zanten graduated from Evanston Township High School in 1986. In February of this year, LTC Van Zanten was honored at a retirement ceremony that offered family, friends and colleagues an opportunity to salute her for 29 years of service in the United States Army.

LTC Van Zanten had been in the United States only three years when she and her sister entered college at the same time. When she was accepted at Illinois State University, she planned to earn academic scholarships and apply for financial aid and student loans. “Being a part of the military was never a consideration,” said LTC Van Zanten in her retirement speech. It was during college orientation that she attended a presentation for an Army ROTC program that offered a tuition scholarship for two years with no obligation to continue if the program was not a good fit.

LTC Van Zanten, who says she was “nervous, a shy kid,” summoned the courage to join the ROTC program on campus. “I had to participate in the ROTC for two years, wear a fashionable OD Green uniform with shiny black boots, run around campus at ‘0 dark 30’ in the morning (that’s before the sun comes up), and go on a few weekend camping trips (also known as FTX’s),” said LTC Van Zanten about her first two years of college.

During her military career, LTC Van Zanten received numerous honors, including the Meritorious Service Medal, Army Commendation Medal, Army Achievement Medal, and National Defense Service Medal with Bronze Star. As a retired U.S. Army Officer, LTC Van Zanten is among the 1.4% of Americans who have served in the military. Her journey is far from over.

“I traded my boots for heels and am currently working for our Federal Government Department of Defense. I wanted to continue working and serving in that capacity, since I could not continue as a soldier,” said LTC Van Zanten.

Heidi Randhava is an award winning reporter who has a deep commitment to community engagement and service. She has written for the Evanston RoundTable since 2016.