As a young girl, Natalie Stewart trained in gymnastics in hopes of becoming a cheerleader. Years later as a cheerleader, she trained at Fort Jackson, South Carolina in hopes of serving her country.
The second-year political science major splits her time between her school work at SUNY New Paltz, being a member of New Paltz Cheer and hiking in the mountains. All the while she is preparing to leave the U.S. Army reserves and join her fellow troops in active duty upon graduation.
After earning her associate’s degree in criminal justice from Dutchess Community College in 2014, Stewart made the decision to join the U.S. Army.
“I just always wanted to be a soldier,” Stewart said. “I wanted to be strong and do something I was proud of.”
Shortly thereafter, Stewart participated in basic training at Fort Jackson for two months. She then went to Fort Gordon, Georgia for five months for advanced individual training. She is currently in the reserves until she is done with her bachelor’s.
Stewart, who just transferred to SUNY New Paltz this semester, has also played a key role in New Paltz Cheer’s recent success.
The team took home first place at the Reach the Beach National Cheer Championships that took place in Ocean City, Maryland from April 2-3. More recently, the team finished in first at the Epic Brand’s Six Flags Spring Extravaganza on Saturday, April 30 to conclude their season.
Stewart serves as both a main base and a tumbler for the team. New Paltz Cheer coach Kayla Paine said that she brings both energy and leadership to New Paltz Cheer, despite only joining recently.
“Natalie brings a lot of energy to the team,” Paine said. “She is always on the move at practice; working on tumbling or the dance on her water breaks.”
Stewart does not see many similarities between being a soldier and being a cheerleader, although she said both keep her in shape. However, she did note one thing that she has learned from both the military and her cheerleading.
“Teamwork,” Stewart said. “Fighting through the ups and the downs with the team beside you.”
Paine has noticed how much of a team player Stewart is, and her experience with the military has added to that.
“I think her all around dedication is a trait she brings to cheer and her commitment to the military,” Paine said. “She’s always willing to jump into a new spot to do whatever is best for the team and our overall success.”
Once Stewart has earned her bachelor’s degree from SUNY New Paltz, she plans to go into active duty. She will be stationed at a military base and will be ready to be deployed overseas if called up. Stewart is currently ranked as a Specialist (SPC).
Although this may seem like a crazy lifestyle for most of us, Stewart does not view it that way.
“It’s just military service as a full time job, like a 9 to 5 in camo,” she said.
When the day comes that Stewart will be stationed at a base, Paine has full confidence that her cheerleader will excel with the army.
“Natalie is definitely a leader,” Paine said. “Her cheerleading career isn’t as long as some of the other team members, but you can see that people look up to Natalie. She is very mature for her age and it shows when she performs at every practice, game and competition.”