By: Emily Mulcahey
In college, they rose well before their roommates. As a matter of fact, they rose well before the sun. Their alarms would buzz at five in the morning, and they dutifully walked through the dark, and many times through the cold, to get to their physical training. They went through rigorous workouts, and then went to class all day long.
These are not Division-I athletes. They don’t live this way for glory on the court or the field. These are ROTC cadets; they live this way in hopes that one day, they can defend the people of their country by joining the greatest military force that history has ever seen: the United States Army.
ROTC cadets that have just graduated college and commissioned into an eight-year contract enter the armed forces as 2nd Lts. It is impossible to earn a commission without having come to Cadet Summer Training (CST) at Fort Knox, Ky. Each 2nd Lt. working at Knox this summer has, at some point, been on the other side of things…they have all been cadets here rather than cadre. They have all slept in tents, perspired in the exhausting heat, pulled countless ticks off of themselves, and much more.
Now, in leadership positions at CST, the 2nd Lts. have seen just how much work went into the planning of their time last year as cadets during their summer training.
“Now, being able to step back and look at the process, you realize how valuable this experience was,” commented 2nd Lt. Christian Henderson, graduate of Niagara University in New York. “Last year, you counted down the days just wanting to get it over with, but now I’m here for a few months and I’m able to see how important the training is. I’d be happy to go back and do it again.”
As new graduates, these 2nd Lts. did not know they would be coming to Fort Knox for CST until a couple of weeks before they arrived. Now that they are here, they know that the pressure is on for them to do well.
“It’s a good training experience for us,” said 2nd Lt. Raleigh Howard, recent graduate of the Illinois Institute of Technology. “As fresh, new lieutenants, we are kind of in a glass box, everyone is looking at us—the cadets, all the non-commissioned officers and officers. It’s kind of our first time in a real leadership position.”
CST is the first step that these former cadets will take in their military careers. They will all leave CST and go to their various officer schools, and then embark on their real journeys, because the Army is full of opportunity. 2nd Lt. Danny Del Pino, recent graduate of Florida Atlantic University, will go to Germany after his basic course.
“I’m going to Germany, and I’m going to be part of an aviation unit. I don’t really know what I’m going to do there though, whatever they ask me to,” he laughs. “My dad was in the Army, and he told me to give ROTC a try. I did, and the next thing I know, I’m a 2nd Lt.”
For these new officers, the Army has always been their goal, although for some of them, it has been host to the most heartbreaking tragedies of their lives. 2nd Lt. Abbey McConnell, former student at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Wash., was born and raised in a military family; her father was an officer and her brother enlisted. Her brother deployed to Afghanistan, and never made it home. He made the ultimate sacrifice for the United States, and rather than let this deter her decision, she pushed forward.
“He was supposed to go back to ROTC with me,” she said of her brother, “but he was killed in Afghanistan. He and I had made a promise that we do ROTC…so I stuck with it, and now I’m here.”
McConnell’s strength is the embodiment of everything that the United States Army stands for. It is because of people like her and her brother that the rest of us sleep soundly each night.
These new 2nd Lts. have worked harder than most college students could ever fathom, and it has all paid off. Within a few weeks, they will jet off to different parts of the globe, and begin one of the most important jobs on earth: defending their nation.