Rae Fancher saw something different in her brother after he came home from attending Alaska Christian College. It was at that point she knew she had to follow in his footsteps. Little did she know that after two years at ACC she would be on her way to becoming the first Alaska Native woman to graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy.
“My older brother had gone here (ACC), and when he came back to visit, I saw something different in him, I couldn’t quite tell what it was, but it was something I wanted for myself,” Fancher said. “I needed a year between high school and enlisting in the Navy. I was like, ‘OK, you know what, I think ACC would be a good place to go, and I came here.’”
ACC is a faith-based, accredited school in Soldotna whose main focus is Alaska Natives coming from rural Alaska. The 25-year-old Fancher visited the school last week while she was on leave to visit family and friends throughout Alaska.
While at the school, she caught up with ACC President Keith Hamilton and his wife, Debbie, who is the executive director of New Hope Counseling Center in Soldotna.
“I had to come down here and see Keith and Debbie and the school since they’ve done so much for me,” she said.
Growing up in Bethel and Unalakleet, Fancher had some adjusting to do when she came to the Kenai Peninsula from rural Alaska.
“It was a change, we had three stores and it’s a small town — going out to the villages,” she said. “Being able to fly into Anchorage and drive down here, it was just different. They have paved roads, that was something that took me a little while to get used to, just the culture itself is different.”
Shortly after arriving at ACC, Fancher felt as though she was in a place that would help her overcome her troubled past.
“I had no idea what I was getting into coming here. It was a good thing. I mean, growing up, conditions weren’t ideal,” Fancher said. “I helped raise my younger brothers and sister, I went through quite a bit of hardship, it’s something I had held in my heart, I was bitter, I was angry, I was hurt.”
Fancher knew she wanted to join the Navy when she started at ACC, and she shared her goal with a missionary that was visiting campus.
During the conversation she had with him, the light bulb lit up.
“I remember saying, ‘I want to go into the Navy and I want to enlist in the Navy,’” she said. “There was a missionary here that said, ‘Well, if you’re going to college and you want to go into the Navy, go to the Naval Academy so you can get both done.’”
From that day, Fancher said, a fire was lit, and she started to apply.
“All of a sudden, during the application process, I was gung-ho about it, this is where I want to go. It’s a crazy kind of passion that I have, when I look back there’s no basis of that passion within myself,” she said. “I knew nothing about the Naval Academy, I knew it was in Maryland, and I knew it was a four-year school. Those are the two things I knew about it.”
In the fall of 2006, she was accepted into the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., and started her four-year education and the transition to a large university with a militaristic life style was something to which Fancher had difficulty getting acclimated.
“The military environment, having to be situationally aware of what’s going on, if there’s somebody around that you need to salute, or having to be there on time, every time, all the time. If you’re on time, you’re late, you have to be five minutes early to everywhere,” she said. “There were quite a few changes going from rural Alaska to ACC to the Naval Academy.”
Although she was at the Naval Academy, and one step closer to her goal of being enlisted in the Navy, Fancher said the class load along with the military requirements were weighing on her.
“It was really a 24/7 job. I know there were semesters where I was just so burnt out, I averaged anywhere from three to four hours of sleep a night,” she said.
The tough schedule with heavy requirements, more than a typical university, led her to question if she truly wanted to be there, but she knew it was where God had brought her.
“It was like being pulled in a hundred different directions at one time, it was very hard to balance that,” Fancher said.
“I didn’t know if I wanted to be there until my second semester senior year when suddenly something just clicked,” she said. “Up until that point, it was me knowing that this is where God has brought me, this is where Christ has led me, so I’m going to stay the path as much as I hated it. Second semester senior year, I was like, ‘You know what, I really like this, I really enjoy this.’”
Fancher graduated with a GPA of 3.7, a great improvement from the 1.76 she carried at one point during her stint at the academy. The road was long and it certainly was not easy. When it’s all said and done, Fancher knows her accomplishment is just the beginning.
“It’s a huge step forward for my culture and my people. It’s something I’m very proud of,” she said.
Fancher is currently stationed in Norfolk, Va., as an Ensign in the Navy. Recently, she served on the DDG-109, also known as the USS Jason Dunham, as the assistant fire control officer. Fancher said she worked with the Aegis Weapon System.
As for the future, she is unsure if she will make the Navy her career, even though enjoys the satisfaction from her job.
“At the end of the day I’m definitely able to sit down and say, ‘I’ve made a difference in someone’s life today,’ and it’s definitely worth it, so I have no idea if I’m going to be career or not,” she said.
Fancher said she had an opportunity last summer at the Unalakleet Bible Camp to share her story and to encourage the campers to reach for their goals.
“Being able to tell the high school kids, ‘Hey, this is something that’s possible, you know, just open yourself up to God and let him do his work, because it’s amazing what he’ll bring you,’” she said. “It’s something that I’m very, very passionate about, because I know where these kids are coming from and how hard life can be, and I want a better life for my people.”
“I take every opportunity I can to share that.”