Cadets kick off Army careers before bowl game

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

It generally takes four years to develop a Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) cadet. It took about a minute Jan. 8 to transition two students from cadets to second lieutenants in the United States Army.

The Army’s newest officers received their oaths of office on the Alamodome field in San Antonio, Texas, prior to kickoff of the 11th Annual All-American Bowl in what proved to be a demonstration of ROTC’s mission: Commission the future leadership of the American Army.

For Veronica Perez of the University of Texas-San Antonio and Jamie Carpenter of the University of the Incarnate Word, the event before over 37,000 people closed the chapter on their college student training and the beginning of another educational phase as leaders of soldiers.

"Now it’s time to go to work and become a true leader," Perez said.

They took their oaths from Maj. Gen. Mark McDonald, commanding general, U.S. Army Cadet Command.

Perez, a kinesiology major, and Carpenter, an athletic training major, both branched into the Medical Services Corps as members of the U.S. Army Reserve. The cadets were actually commissioned Dec. 17 at their schools.

So this event was ceremonial swearing-in. But that didn’t diminish the importance of highlighting the culmination of their success.

"I’ve learned to become a leader, and ROTC has taught me life skills," Carpenter said. Adding that this commissioning ceremony was a chance for many family members in San Antonio to see the event they missed a few weeks ago at their schools.

"It has made me who I am today." Carpenter said. "With ROTC, I’ve done things I would never have done if I didn’t join. It tells kids out there that there are things they can do other than not go to school."

Perez, 26, is not only the first commissioned officer in her family but also she was the first high school grad and now the first college grad.

After being part of Junior ROTC at her San Antonio high school, Perez set her sights on enlisting and becoming a drill sergeant, a position where she could shape and mold citizens into soldiers.

Encouragement from an NCO at the University of Texas-San Antonio changed her mind.

"I just always thought drill sergeants were cool," Perez said. "ROTC was an easier route to being a leader and" to obtaining a college degree.

Preparing to head to the Basic Officer Leadership Course, she is working with her Army Reserve unit, the 228th Combat Support Hospital in San Antonio, for what she sees as a position with overwhelming responsibility.

"Leading soldiers is a big deal," Perez said. "Their parents are saying, ‘You have my son in your hands. Make sure you bring him back home safe.’"

Over the last few years, Perez has received constant tutelage from her husband, Jose Alberto Perez, a retired lieutenant colonel who served 24 years. He spent many hours talking with his wife about leadership and effective decision-making.

"This is a new generation, and they have to deal with a lot of different challenges," Jose Alberto Perez said. "She’ll do well. Every officer has their own leadership style. It’s about getting different experiences to develop that style."

Carpenter, 24, is married with an 18-month-old child. She delivered while still in school and was determined not to let it cause her to miss a semester, which she didn’t.

The first in her family to join the Army, Carpenter received an ROTC scholarship after graduating high school in San Diego. Her goal was to become an officer to benefit her family and her country.

Carpenter said while growing up, she often served as a leader with her softball and soccer teams. And, ROTC honed those skills.

But being a leader of soldiers, she said, comes with considerable challenges.

"It’ll be tough," Carpenter said. "But that’s part of the thrill and excitement."

(Editor’s note: This story is based on an article by Steve Arel, U.S. Army Cadet Command.)