A soldier who made history after being one of the first women to graduate Ranger School is encouraging others to step into the arena.
A reference to the popular speech by President Theodore Roosevelt, the words to “The Man in the Arena” hang behind the desk of Lt. Col. Lisa Jaster’s home office in New Braunfels, Texas. She recently released a new book, “Delete the Adjective: A Soldier’s Adventures in Ranger School,” that relives her experiences from one of the Army’s toughest training courses, as written in her field notebook.
Throughout her career, Jaster has navigated through male-dominated industries, making room for herself while paving the way for other women to be successful. The book, she says, encourages others to embrace their same full potential, using “everything in your power to reach that goal.”
“Whatever your goal is, be all in. For me going to Ranger School, the hardest thing I had to do was shave my head,” Jaster said. “Once I shaved my head, it was … I can’t go home with nothing but a shaved head and nothing but a story. I have to push through, I have to graduate, I have to get my tab.”
The mother of two previously served seven years on active duty, before taking a five-year break after she and her husband, a Marine reservist, faced issues getting assigned in the same geographic location.
“I actually never thought I would ever leave active duty, but I married a Marine and we couldn’t get co-located and the [career] opportunities [for him] were really limited,” she said. “He decided he was going to try and follow me for a while, but as any military spouse knows that you can get jobs when you’re a military spouse moving every three years, but careers are difficult unless you’re in the education or healthcare industries — and he wasn’t in either.”
Jaster initially planned to transition to the reserves right away, but she started working with Shell Oil Company — a career she held for 12 years — and questioned if it was the right time to continue with the military because she was still nursing one of her children.
“ … there is very little work-life balance when you’re chasing any career, much less multiples — which is really what you do as a reservist. That citizen soldier concept is a very challenging balance,” Jaster said.
In 2012, she joined the Army Reserve, with encouragement from a female West Point grad. But, Jaster noted, she started to see a culture shift from the military she served in as a young officer to the present day, with a new focus on the individual needs of the service member.
“It’s been 20 years since I was a lieutenant so part of it is people have changed, and with that five-year break in service, the military changed a bunch … ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ being repealed was a big change; the environment became much more sensitive to individuals than it was when I was first active duty,” she said.
Jaster also witnessed a difference in active duty to the reserves, including “a strong sense of pride” that she attributes to reserve service being “a calling” because “nobody is going to pay their mortgage off being a reservist.”
In 2015, the engineer officer made history by being one of the first women to complete Army Ranger School. She said the most-surprising aspect of the experience was how little her peers cared about her being a female.
“ … That’s actually how ‘Delete the Adjective’ came about. … about the 500th pushup, flutter kick, air squat, the guy next to me didn’t care who was standing next to him as long as I wasn’t making him do more flutter kicks,” she said. “As long as I could hold my own weight, perform based on merit, he was happy.”
Today, in her civilian career, Jaster works as partner and senior consultant at Talent War Group — a leadership development and executive search firm focused on helping clients optimize the people side of their businesses. She said leaders need to be adaptable and flexible if they want to attract and retain the best talent, whether that is in the military or corporate America.
“I think people choose their careers on three major things: job satisfaction, pay and benefits, and work environment – including location. … As leaders … we have to look at which one of those matter to us as a company, what are we bringing employees in for – and I will tell you, I have seen more people quit bosses than actual jobs,” Jaster said. “The first tenets I mentioned, job satisfaction, needs to be a driving force. It can’t just be a mission statement on a website about a company being family oriented — are you family oriented? Do you have a maternity and paternity policy, or are you asking an employee to take sick leave when they give birth?
“If we want to attract really good talent and retain them, we need to manage the quality of work environment more than anything else. … How can we create a work environment that allows the employee to perform at their best level?”
“Delete the Adjective: A Soldier’s Adventures in Ranger School,” was released at the end of January. Though it was initially written for women like herself, she said its intent has evolved to include people “who don’t know women like me. It’s the people who are so busy putting middle-aged women in a bucket.”
That bucket includes women, like Jaster who balances multiple careers and motherhood while maintaining an active lifestyle of ultra-trail runs, jiu-jitsu and CrossFit competitions.