Hardin Simmons Hosts First ROTC Leadership Program

ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – On Memorial Day, we honor fallen soldiers who gave their all to keep America free. This week at Hardin-Simmons University, the next generation of military personnel prepare to help protect those freedoms.

It was a cloudy morning in the parking lot of the Skiles building on the HSU campus, but the sounds of sharp steps and calls came from between the white parking strips.

It takes time to learn the cadences and calls of the military march, but for high school students in the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC), it has become their way of life. A mission or calling some might say, to serve, protect and honor America’s right to freedom.

“The army has always been part of my life. My dad was in the military, and even though I didn’t live with him, it ignited that little spark,” said Cadet Colonel Paul Nguyen.

During the week, Nguyen roams the halls of Abilene High School (AHS), but during his after-school hours, he becomes the Cadet Corporal of Abilene High’s Junior ROTC program.

Nguyen said while his father’s military background played a role in his joining ROTC, it was his older brother’s challenge that inspired him to pursue a military lifestyle.

“I don’t want to be exactly like him, so I decided I wanted to join the military academy,” Nguyen said.

His brother was accepted into the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs last year, presenting an impressive academic resume to enlist.

Nguyen, however, said their sibling rivalry is all about brains and brawn. His older brother is the brains, and he declared himself the most muscular – having worked with the AHS football and weightlifting teams.

In HSU’s leadership program, however, Cadet Corporal Nguyen becomes a Cadet Colonel and enters the classroom to continue his training on how to become a quality military leader.

And while he’s leading at Abilene High, he becomes a student for graduates of a similar ROTC leadership program who have transitioned into the college ROTC ranks, like University of North Texas junior Christian Elle.

She volunteered as the Cadet Training Officer (CTO) for the week, as do many other students who spend their first weeks of summer vacation working with the high school ROTC cadets.

“Not only do cadets learn from us, but we learn from cadets how to develop our leadership styles,” Elle said.

She is from Cameroon, a country in West-Central Africa, and moved to the United States as a child. Now an official citizen of the United States, the 20-year-old has found her place in the United States Air Force.

She said her parents both served in the military, but never forced her to enlist. However, she became increasingly interested in seeing the impact of airmen and wingmen in leadership roles and was inspired to join the military on her own.

Now a volunteer, Elle said she hopes to teach young cadets how to face and win tough battles.

“Being an officer isn’t going to be easy,” Elle said. “You’re going to be put in these situations where you don’t know what to do and no one is telling you how to do it.”

Helping Volunteer Alongside Elle is Abilene native, Cooper High School graduate and current Tarleton State University student Jackie Barry, who returned to her backyard to help instruct the cadets in attendance.

Barry attended and graduated from a similar ROTC leadership program in Abilene. Now she wants to give back, even though before her freshman year of high school she had no military experience.

She said no one in her family had any military experience except her great-grandfather, but knew early on that she wanted to serve in some capacity.

It was in third grade that Barry realized she could do just that in the military and now aspires to not only serve her country, but also teach the skills necessary to succeed in the armed forces.

“I want them to know and learn how to show all of these leadership traits that they’re learning, while growing up and helping people before they can leave,” Barry said. “I want to use the hardships I’ve been through and let others know that other people have been through this and there will always be someone there for them.”

She said that in high school she wanted to come back to “be mean,” but learned upon entering middle school ROTC that her mindset had to change. Barry said it’s not about being mean and yelling, but rather about stepping up in ways to better prepare himself and his caddies for the obstacles they face.

Barry said she entered college ROTC blind, not knowing what to expect, but learned quickly — the right way to respect those who came before her, those serving now, as well as future cadets who will be joining in the near future. A maturing process that she wears openly and proudly on her sleeves, and which has been praised by her former instructors.

More than 500 high school ROTC cadets joined HSU’s two programs this week; one for the upper classes and the other for the subclasses. They learn how to become an effective military leader, honor guard duties, as well as classroom and field training exercises. Their schedules start around 4:30 a.m., Barry said, and end around 10:30 p.m.

Each student will graduate from the program on Saturday, June 4.

Kevin E. Boling