Susan Marie Nabor Sobrepena, possibly the first Secaucus woman to graduate from West Point, was honored by the mayor and Town Council last month for her accomplishments.
“To our knowledge, she is the first woman from Secaucus to graduate West Point,” said Mayor Dennis Elwell during a brief ceremony in early July. “We researched our records and couldn’t come up with another woman who had attended West Point before.”
Sobrepena graduated from West Point Military Academy on June 1. A graduate of Secaucus High School in 1995, she attended the Norwich Military Academy in Vermont, graduating from there in 1998. With the help of U.S. Senator Robert Torricelli, she entered West Point.
“I always wanted to fly,” she said during a brief interview. “I couldn’t see myself doing anything else.”
She was apparently inspired by Glen Ridge actor Tom Cruise’s jet fighter part in the movie Top Gun.
Mayor Dennis Elwell, who spoke at the ceremony, said he was surprised by Sobrepena.
“Where as I knew she had graduated West Point, I noticed she also had the [insignia] on her collar,” he said. “I did not know she had also gone through Airborne training.”
Elwell had served in the 82nd Airborne unit while serving in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War.
“It took additional courage and strength to get through the United States Airborne school,” he said.
Sobrepena was born in Philippines, and moved to Secaucus in 1983. She said her mother was an inspiration to her, succeeding in the business world as well as struggling against significant illness. Her mother saw her enter West Point, but died before Sobrepena graduated.
Sobrepena talked a little about her experiences in the military.
“West point was tough for me, but it wasn’t impossible,” she said. “If you put your mind towards any goal, you can achieve them.”
She majored in comparative politics and civil engineering. Yes, she admits that airborne training was a bit unnerving.
“When you see the clouds you do get a little intimidated,” she said. “With all the combat equipment, you add about 150 pounds to what you already weigh. You’re at the door and the jumpmaster is looking at you. You have to get ready to jump from about 1,250 feet.”
When the jumpmaster told her to go, she said “Okay.”
She recalled the first time she had to jump from the airplane.
“The person behind me got nervous and accidentally opened reserve,” she said, noting that if the parachute hit someone, a person could “get thrown” and die. “I was kicked out by the jump master.”
She said she remember thinking: ‘That’s all right. That’s what I was trained to do.’ I survived.”
She said faith plays a big part in the ability to do this, and trusting that she had learned what she needed to survive it.
“If your parachute doesn’t open, you know to open your reserve,” she said. “You have to have faith in the people that lead you, that they know what they’re doing.”
From here, Sobrepena said she will attend flight school and will either fly Apache or Black Hawk helicopters. She will likely serve overseas, perhaps, she said, the Middle East