First Lt. Christie Plackis, the fourth female diver in the history of the Army, gives the diver ‘OK’ hand gesture to Staff Sgt. Eric Bailey, dive supervisor, as he checks her for any obvious medical concerns at the Sea Point of Debarkation/Embarkation, Shuaiba Port, Kuwait. (Photo by Sgt. Micah VanDyke)
SHUAIBA PORT, Kuwait – Just as the Spartans defied the odds and held off thousands of enemy troops, a modern-day female Soldier of Greek descent showed the same determination in her pursuit of becoming one of only four female-divers in the history of the U.S. Army.
This petite young woman relentlessly pursued her dream of becoming a diver while navigating a world dominated by men. She displayed the same “grit-and-grind” resolve showcased by Demi Moore on the big screen.
“I thought it was going to be like the movie ‘G.I. Jane.’ That was going to be me,” said 1st. Lt. Christie Plackis, the executive officer assigned to the 74th Engineer Dive Detachment, deployed from Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va.
Her parents never served in the military, so she had no idea what Army life was all about. At eight-years-old, she began swimming competitively, which prepared her for her destiny: being a diver. Her connection with the water was constant during her high school and college years, including coaching and lifeguarding, which kept her in peak physical shape for the challenges that she’d face.
In 2007, Lt. Col Kent Rideout, her Army ROTC commanding officer at San Diego State University, informed her that Army officers could become divers. Thus, the flame was lit and it’s never burned out.
“This is what I’m going to do,” stated Plackis with confidence. “I don’t care that the numbers are against me or that I’m the only female.”
At the Basic Officer Leader Course at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., she’d ask anyone who mentioned divers to elaborate. Many times, the responses weren’t pleasant.
“I was so excited to be a diver that I asked an instructor questions about the dive field,” said Plackis. “When I told him I wanted to become a diver, he responded by saying, ‘Nope, you’re too small and weak.’”
This type of response was all too familiar to the small-framed young woman. She let it roll off her.
“There were a lot of haters. I had to step back and remind myself that they don’t even know me,” said Plackis. “It just fueled the fire to train harder. It made the fire even bigger. It made me angry, but determined. It motivated me.”
Every evening after the long grueling days spent learning her new career, she continued swimming until the day of tryouts. In diving, being prepared mentally and physically is the only way to have a fighting chance of making the cut.
The Dive Officer Selection Board, consisting of leadership from the Army engineer diving field, interviewed Plackis after she endured an extreme water physical fitness assessment lasting several hours.
“It’s pretty cool. She was gung-ho, ready to duke it out with the guys straight off the bat,” said Spc. Dagan Indeck, a second-class diver who spent every step of training with her and now serves in the 74th EDD. “She’s not held to a different standard. She had to pass the same physical fitness test for divers, male or female.”
After surviving three physically intensive weeks of training during phase one dive school, she advanced to phase two in February 2011. She spent six months devouring each and every aspect of Army diving at the Naval Diving and Salvage Training Center, Panama City, Fla.
“I liked PT, but it was always one of those morale killers for me, everyone else finished before me during CrossFit,” as Plackis recalled those strenuous physical fitness routines consisting of 100 pull-ups, 500 push-ups and other extreme exercises.
Army and Navy divers train together during dive school. One of her classmates, a Navy diver, who had traditional views regarding who should be there, pulled her aside before he graduated and told her something unexpected.
“I don’t know how to tell you, I have a lot of respect for you,” said a diver who, in her mind, was always her biggest critic. “You worked so hard on your push-ups and pull-ups after duty hours. During the toughest times, watching you made us say, ‘How can we quit? If she can do it, we can do it too.’”
“I was so encouraged. I realized in dive school that my presence – my existence – makes people better,” said Plackis. “Just the fact that I am there and not quitting, meant they weren’t going to quit. I went there to meet the standard, I didn’t go there to do less.”
That attitude earned her the respect of not only the dive instructors, but also an instructor who currently serves as the master diver in her unit.
“In the past, women weren’t typically allowed or didn’t make it through dive school. Most failed the pull-ups,” said Master Diver Sgt. 1st Class Michael Randall. “Not with her. I was there when she first started and throughout her training there was no question that she would finish. She definitely wasn’t pushed through.”
By channeling her love of swimming, personal courage and spiritual beliefs, Plackis was able to succeed where many others, men and women, have failed. She overcame many physical and mental challenges, even when some were questioning her, to solidify her place in history by becoming only the fourth woman to serve as an Army diver. Today, her unique position as a role model could be used to encourage young women to follow their dreams, regardless of difficulties and challenges they may face.