For any student at UTC, earning a diploma is no cakewalk. There’s no skating through the curriculum. Dedication and hard work are required.
Add Army ROTC into the equation and the difficulty level rises even higher.
“Army ROTC is not for everyone, just for the leaders of tomorrow,” says Capt. Kevin Beavers, head of the Department of Military Science. “We take cadets on a four-year journey that not only produces commissioned officers in the United States Army, but the future leaders that our communities and country will come to rely on.”
The first class of the day for ROTC cadets is Military Fitness, which starts at 6 a.m. “We lead from the front both in and out of the classroom,” Beavers says.
The three cadets below recently graduated from UTC and were commissioned as second lieutenants. All are continuing their military careers. One is headed for the Army infantry; one is going to the Military Police Corps for the Tennessee National Guard; one will be in the Signal Corps of the Army Reserve.
“They come from all walks of life, but all have the common self-driven goal of serving something greater than themselves,” Beavers says.
The woman on the other end of the phone did not mince words.
“The woman told me I just wasn’t good enough to get in. It was like a slap in the face. She really did say that to me,” says Ryan Baker, a senior in environmental science at UTC.
The “get in” part was the U.S. Navy. As a senior at Walker Valley High School in Bradley County, Baker had applied to the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., as well as applying for a Navy ROTC scholarship. His grades were good; his ACT score was good; he’d been invited to the Naval Academy’s prestigious summer seminar the year before. He thought he was a shoo-in.
Instead, he was turned down for both. And that left him stranded.
“I didn’t have a Plan B,” he says.
Eventually, Plan B was signing up for Army ROTC as a freshman at UTC. It turned out to be a very good choice.
This year, Baker was chosen as a Distinguished Military Graduate, which means he ranks in the Top 10 percent of graduating cadets in the country. In late May, he is headed for infantry school at Fort Benning, Ga., and hopes to continue on to Army Ranger school. His end goal is being assigned to an Army Airborne unit.
“They’re considered to be one of the more elite units in the Army,” he says.
His initial goal of going into the Navy was a result of his grandfather being a Navy underwater demolition team diver in the Vietnam War and a family push for him to go that route.
“That kind of encouraged me to pursue the Navy,” Baker says. “I never really considered the Army that much.”
Now, however, when he compares his Army career to the one he may have had in the Navy, he is convinced that he’s where he needs to be.
“I think I wanted to be an officer more than I wanted to be in the Navy,” he admits. “I’m pretty much a center-of-the-room, upfront person, so I think that, if I would’ve been in the Navy, I wouldn’t have been as happy because I would’ve been more of a hands-off, stand-back job, a supporting position rather than being in the front.”
Once. Just once.
That’s how many times cadets at Sabalauski Air Assault School in Fort Campbell, Ky., are given instructions on how to load an equipment sling hanging beneath an Army helicopter. The next time around, they are expected to load the sling and load it right.
“They show you once on how it’s supposed to be, and it has to be exactly how they showed you,” says Lauren Williams, a senior in criminal justice at UTC. “Everything has its place and you have 10 minutes to do that. …It’s a lot of attention to detail.”
If you do it wrong, you’re dinged with points added to your overall score. Forty points and you’re gone. Air Assault School, which also includes rappelling from a tower and a Blackhawk helicopter, is known as “the 10 hardest days in the Army,” Williams says.
“It was pretty challenging, but it was a lot of fun, too.”
And Williams apparently did it right, too, because she’s graduating in the Top15 percent of Army cadets nationwide, a rarified spot that can’t be attained if you don’t do things correctly.
Doing it right seems to be a theme in her life. Along with her ranking in ROTC, In May 2017, she also won the Tennessee state championship in jiu-jitsu.
From my early age, my Dad and I were into UFC, Ultimate Fighting, and that was like our thing,” she explains. “We would watch when it come on pay-per-view and I was just really interested in a mix of martial arts.”
It all fell into place after she finished ROTC basic training, which includes a combat portion. “I just loved it. I was like, ‘Ah man, I really need to get into this.’ And then my Dad, he wound up getting me jiu-jitsu lessons for Christmas one year and I just fell in love from the beginning of it, so it’s been great.”
She’ll leave UTC as a second lieutenant and hopes to enter Army Military Police School on her way to her ultimate goal, a job in federal law enforcement. Having interned in spring semester with marshals in Chattanooga’s federal court, she thinks she has a pretty good chance with the contacts she made there.
“I’m a big believer that it’s not what you do, it’s who you know,” she says.
She enlisted in the Army National Guard right after graduating from McMinn Central High School in Englewood, Tenn., and joined the UTC unit of ROTC when she started in fall 2015. Four years in ROTC will be a plus when it comes to finding a job, she believes.
“I think leadership is key and I think that helps me stand out, being competitive between other people trying to get those jobs,” she says.
“I feel like law enforcement and the military go hand in hand in how we act and just the family you need to have. These people are like my brothers. I think it’s the same kind of dynamic in law enforcement.”
If you enjoy playing online video games, it’s nice to meet others who feel the same. It’s nice to become friends with those people. And it’s especially nice if, when you graduate from college, one of those friends owns a software programming company and wants to hire you.
That’s the path that Evan Grayson has followed since he was 11 and met Alex Frison on an online gaming site. Graduating from UTC with a degree in computer science, Grayson plans to move to Seattle, where he’ll work full-time for his friend’s company, INFIBIT, but also spend one weekend a month and two weeks in the summer on active duty with the Army Reserve.
“At UTC, I focused on information security, so that’s what I’m hoping to do out there,” says Grayson, who grew up in Sevierville, Tenn.
Computers will still be his focus when he’s at Fort Lewis outside Seattle, where he’ll be maintaining the Army’s voice, data and information systems. His work, which can involve computer security and network security, will not be limited to Fort Lewis, he says.
The Army and computer science are “very different worlds. They’re very different personality types,” he acknowledges. While computer programming can be solitary at times, the Army is “very open and talkative.”
A member of UTC’s ROTC since his freshman year, he also says the leadership and communication skills he learned “will be extremely helpful in any area I go into.”
“Going through ROTC I’ve been able to build the ability to communicate with people to get the project rolling,” he explains. “Sometimes I just want to be the person who stays behind, and then I see nothing’s happening and think, ‘I might as well do it.’”
ROTC also demands that you stay on task and on schedule, other traits that will help out in the real world, he says.
“Coming into college, you need to learn to set up a schedule and get into a rhythm. In ROTC, that’s really set me up for success, so I think that I’m really going to be able to take that and move on with my life in whatever area I choose.”