Student Affairs

Pershing Rifles team consisting of six women accomplishes historic first at Clemson


History was made on Saturday, Oct. 7 when the color guard for Company C-4 of the Pershing Rifles set foot on the grass of Memorial Stadium for the playing of the national anthem during pregame of Clemson University’s Homecoming football contest against Wake Forest. For the first time ever, the six-person unit was comprised entirely of women.

Led by commander Sunnie Seay — a senior who came to Tigertown by way of Dutch Fork High School in Columbia — the group marched onto the playing surface and proudly displayed the American flag, South Carolina state flag and Clemson flag at the 40-yard line.

It was a monumental moment … one that almost didn’t happen.

“Our numbers were down, especially with women,” says Seay, a microbiology major and first-generation college student. “COVID had a big hit and it trickled down to Pershing Rifles as well. But we had a big pledge class and finally had enough women to do something like this.”

Pershing Rifles, founded in 1939 at Clemson College, is a professional fraternity dedicated to preserving the school’s military heritage through the performance of color guards, 21-gun salutes, parades, professional drill routines and more.

Belle Korneski
Belle Korneski

As Clemson’s football team was preparing to take on the Demon Deacons of Wake Forest, Seay was busy drilling with her unit — either in the “range” located in Johnstone Hall or in the Fraternity Sorority Quad — to deliver peak performance on gameday.

Seay believes the group performed “very well” as 80,000 fans made their way into the stadium. Following her commands with perfect precision were Madeline Medica, holding the American flag; Vivian Gabbard, with the state flag; Lexi Smith, displaying the Clemson flag; Belle Korneski, lead rifle; and Amelia Wiley, rifle.

Vivian Gabbard

In addition to Pershing Rifles, all six women are members of Clemson’s ROTC program, hang out together and even find time to play intramural flag football on the side.

Seay also serves with the Army Reserves as part of the 7225 medical support unit in Greenville. After graduation, she’ll commission as an Army officer. Ultimately, she hopes to apply her college degree toward a career in emergency medicine.

“I’ve always liked the fast-paced nature of the ER,” she says. “You interact with a lot of people and feel like you’re making a difference in people’s lives, which is pretty cool.”

In the meantime, Seay is making a difference with Pershing Rifles. She earned her first command earlier in the Fall term during a POW event on Bowman Field. She’s participated in a 21-gun salute and in November 2021 helped guard the casket for the funeral of World War II veteran Col. Ben Skardon.

Looking back, she never imagined a scenario like the one that took place in Memorial Stadium.

“I was tricked into going out for Pershing Rifles as a freshman,” she admits. “It was the COVID year, our events were diminished, and I didn’t quite understand the organization. But now, through Army ROTC and Pershing Rifles, I’ve found people I’m going to be friends with the rest of my life. I’ve been afforded so many opportunities.”

Including some opportunities that led to history-making moments.