Sami Tamyalew, MBA 22: “Service is at the core of my being”

portrait of African American woman
Sami Tamyalew, MBA 22, was one of the first women to serve in a direct combat role after the repeal of the Combat Exclusion Policy.

Samrawit (Sami) Tamyalew, MBA 22, joined the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) in 2014, becoming the first female artillery platoon leader in the division. At Fort Campbell, she led artillerymen across an array of different specialties.

Haas News spoke to Tamyalew about why she joined the U.S. Army, what it was like serving in a combat unit after the repeal of the Combat Exclusion Policy, and her aspirations to use her business skills to serve communities in Sub-Saharan Africa.

What motivated you to serve?

Growing up, my parents would share stories about why they left Ethiopia. While they had amazing childhoods, everything changed for them after a military coup in 1974 and the assasination of Emperor Haile Selassie I. Ethiopia broke out into a civil war after the Derg, a communist military regime, took over the country. It forced them to seek life elsewhere. Hearing their stories made me appreciate my life in the U.S. and inspired me to go into service. Initially, I wanted to be a teacher, but I changed my mind after meeting my high school cross-country coaches who served in the Marine Corps.

Two army soldiers raising their right hands.
Tamyalew joined the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) in 2014.

The repeal of the Combat Exclusion Policy made it possible for you to serve in a direct combat role. What did you do and what was it like?

Once the ban was lifted, I was no longer limited to only non-combat positions; I could expand my career options by serving on a brigade combat team. After I put in a request to transfer to an infantry brigade, I was transferred to Fort Campbell to lead artillerymen, which was previously an all-male unit. I was the only woman in my firing battery (100-member team). I was there for about two years before I deployed to Erbil, Iraq, where our mission was to support the Iraqi and Kurdish militaries who were clearing out ISIS from territories. 

I served as an organizational liaison officer in the command center. Whenever our ground troops needed a strike request or any type of asset support, I’d be the one who liaised between the troops and the one-star general who authorized engagements. 

It was an amazing experience to serve my country and be part of something that was greater than myself, but I was ready to serve in a different capacity. I believe I can make a meaningful impact in the private sector.

Why did you decide to go to business school?

Before Haas, I briefly worked as an operations program manager for the Ethiopian Agricultural Transformation Agency, a government organization aimed to transform and modernize Ethiopia’s agriculture sector. Working there reminded me of what I loved about the Army: I was committed to community-and purpose-driven work.

That experience inspired me to go to business school. Once I graduate from Haas, I plan to go into consulting with the long-term goal of working with social enterprises in Sub-Saharan Africa. 

Although I’m no longer in the Army, I’ll always find a way to serve my community. Service is at the core of my being.