Senior Army ROTC cadets prepare to step off on designated career paths

After nearly four years of Army ROTC, seniors are facing the reality of their upcoming report dates as they prepare to step into the role of a second lieutenant in a matter of months.

On March 2,  approximately 80  Army cadets attended the Army Dining In, a dinner solely for those commissioning and the leadership staff that has trained them thus far. As the seniors put on their Army dress uniforms, the countdown began to when each cadet will report to Basic Officer Leaders Course (BOLC).

With conflicts raging all over the globe, some old and some new, the Army needs college students who are willing to answer the call and take on the challenge of leading America’s sons and daughters into the fight.

Left to right: Peter Stewart, Matt Clancy, Kyle Rau, Hunter Satterfield, Donna Sauls, Matt Davis, Tyler Vaugn, Brie Davis, Justin Blizzard, Dustin Shimkus, and Dan Vazquez at the Army Dining In event.

Left to right: Peter Stewart, Matt Clancy, Kyle Rau, Hunter Satterfield, Donna Sauls, Matt Davis, Tyler Vaugn, Brie Davis, Justin Blizzard, Dustin Shimkus, and Dan Vazquez at the Army Dining In event.

While many civilian colleges have Reserve Officer Training programs, they are smaller in size, while Norwich University, the birthplace of ROTC, can boast a commissioning class each year of approximately 80 Cadets.

On May 12, the Norwich Army ROTC program will be commissioning its senior cadets as second lieutenants. Each one of the cadets has their own story of how they made it this far, just as each of them share their own plans and aspirations for the future.

“I’ve always wanted to be in the Army,” said Josh Beardsley, 21, a criminal justice major from Olney, Md., “It feels good to be finally starting my career and it’s been quite the process of getting to where I’m at,” he said

To become an officer immediately out of college, the process involves completing four years of AROTC, completing the four- week-long summer camp during the summer between the junior and senior year, and, of course, getting good grades and maintaining a high physical fitness level. For Capt. Brain Kalaher, the military science level three instructor, a student’s overall performance in all of these areas is taken into consideration when cadets are selected for specific jobs within the Army.

“If a cadet has a less than ideal performance, then they will not have as many options when it comes to choosing what job they want and where they want to be stationed,” Kalaher said. “There are cadets that have excelled in every aspect and are now able to choose whatever they want.”

Beardsley, who got his number one choice for branching, will be an armor officer when he commissions. “I will serve four years as an armor officer and then I will become an intelligence officer and attend the Captain’s Career Course,” he explained.
“I couldn’t be happier.”

Justin Blizard, 21, a criminal justice major from Mount Laurel, N.J., has been in the Army ROTC program for less than one year, but has completed all of the requirements to become a lieutenant. “The process was very fast and furious, but I was able to get it all done, and here I am, ready to become an Army officer,” he said.

“I will be branching as a Quartermaster officer, which means I will be a logistics guy,” Blizard said. “This means I will have a job in the Army that is very applicable to the civilian. By adding two years of service to my already three-year commitment, I will be able to have the Army pay up to $45,000 in student loan repayment.”

While cadets commissioning into the active duty Army do not have the ability to choose exactly what they want to do and where they want to live, they do have a say in the matter and can request certain jobs and locations to be stationed at.

“I am hoping to be stationed in Virginia because I love the area and it is close to home,” Blizard said.

For Jillian O’Hara, 22, a sports medicine major from San Jose, Calif., the Army provides cadets with a great litany of options as to what they want to do as far as their job goes. “I branched medical services,” O’Hara said, ”which is awesome because it relates so closely with my major and on top of that I am now competing to be a medical evacuation pilot, something I’ve always dreamed of!”

Meredith Lewandowski, 22, a communications major from Milton Vt., will be commissioning this summer and has a unique situation. She will be marrying a recently commissioned officer in the Army. In order to facilitate the relationship, she and her fiancé have taken concrete steps to serve together by working with the Army department.

“We are signing up for the Married Couples program, which helps ensure couples are stationed near one another, if not on the same base, and aids in such things as dealing with children and deploying,” Lewandowski said. “We will not have the same branch but we will most likely both be living in Texas and I cannot wait.”

Lewandowski will report for BOLC on Oct. 29, in Fort Gordon, Ga. Her fiance is currently completing his BOLC.

Jillian O'Hara finds out fron Colonel Smith that she is branching medical service corps at the Army branching ceremony. (NU AROTC Photo)

Jillian O’Hara finds out fron Colonel Smith that she is branching medical service corps at the Army branching ceremony. (NU AROTC Photo)

Commissioning in the Army offers Norwich cadets many great opportunities. For Blizzard, USAA Banking has a career-starter loan that, when a cadet has completed summer camp and is on track to commission, will put $25,000 into the cadet’s bank account.

“I am about to take out the career-starter loan,” Blizard said, “and with this money I will be able to get myself situated and buy a new car. With a 2.99 percent interest rate, I will not have to start paying back the bank until six months after commissioning.”

Cadets such as Patrick Randall, 22, a criminal justice major from Derry N.H., will be taking an alternative route in the commissioning process. Instead of serving four years active duty, Randall will serve eight years in the National Guard, going to drill once a month and two weekends out of the summer.

“There are a lot of advantages when you choose to commission into the National Guard instead of going active,” Randall said. “For one, I get to choose the job I want to do in the Army instead of being assigned one based on my performance, and I also get to choose where I want to live, which for me, was the biggest deciding factor.”

Randall wants to be a police officer in his home state of New Hampshire. Being an officer in the National Guard will allow him to pursue this career path. “I will get to work two federal jobs which means I can work towards two awesome pensions for when I retire,” Randall said.

Tyler Vaughn, 21, a civil engineering major form Hillsboro, N.H., is also signed up to be an officer in the National Guard. “I am going to be a platoon leader in the Vermont Guard with a combat engineering unit as I pursue a career as an engineer in the civilian world. I’m not sure exactly how it will work out in the military, but I am really looking forward to getting started.”

As the senior Army cadets finish out their last year at Norwich, they have the opportunity to assume a leadership and mentor role for the younger classes, according to Kalaher.

“They’ve spent the last three years observing those in charge of them and in doing so they have picked and chosen the characteristics and traits that they want to embody when they step in front of their first platoon,” Kalaher explained.

“This final year is for them to mold their own unique leadership style,” Kalaher said. “Things are becoming a lot more real for them as they are just months away from commissioning. By the time they are seniors, their beds are already made, so to speak, and they have the opportunity to mentor the younger guys, highlighting what worked and what didn’t work.”

“It’s been one heck of a journey to get to this point,” Randall said, “but it’s been well worth it. The other day I was trying on my freshly tailored Army Service Uniform, and it finally sank in: I’m going to be an officer in the United States Army and I couldn’t be more proud.”

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