Arelena Shala was born in 1995 in Prizren, Kosovo, four years before the Kosovo War. Her memories of the war are like snapshots: loud explosions, fires, walking with her family and other refugees, a burning smell, and tanks. Her family fled to Albania, but returned to Kosovo after the war. Currently, her father is a manager for NGO projects dealing with minority immigration, and her mother is a psychologist for the elementary schools. She attended a private Turkish high school, and appreciated the diversity it offered. She then attended the Kosovo Military Academy before being accepted to West Point. She quickly discovered that she enjoyed the military life, so much so that she found comfort in Cadet Basic Training. Drawn towards STEM classes, she majored in Geospatial Information Science (GIS) with a minor in Arabic. Throughout her time at the Academy, summer training was her favorite activity, and she particularly enjoyed CLDT (Cadet Leader Development Training). During her senior year, she was the Command Sergeant Major for 2nd Regiment, and appreciated the leadership opportunities she was afforded, noting that 2nd Regiment was about 1/5 the size of the Kosovo Army. She graduated from Airborne School and completed three AIADs (Advanced Individual Academic Development) while at West Point. She was able to visit Morocco for Arabic language and cultural immersion, conduct GIS research at the University of Southern California, and participate in Operation Cross Roads Africa in Gambia. She was in California when the COVID-19 pandemic erupted, and sheltered with her best friend in Chattanooga, Tennessee. After graduation, she will return to Kosovo, where she will serve as an Infantry Officer.
In this interview, she talks about her childhood, her experiences at the Kosovo Military Academy, and her years at West Point. She highlights some of the leadership experiences she had, as well as some of the academic opportunities she took part in. She reflects on relationships she developed, and remarks that without West Point she would not be the person she is today. Finally, she reflects on what West Point means to her.