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‘Why We Serve’ Speakers Inspire ROTC Cadets

By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service

CINCINNATI, March 12, 2008 – Nick Jackson wakes up earlier and has longer days than most freshmen at the University of Cincinnati, and once a week his clothes are selected for him.

But unlike most students here, Jackson, one in about 30 cadets enrolled in the Army Reserve Officers Training Corps, will graduate school without debt and with a job awaiting him.

“I decided to take the scholarship for financial reasons, but then once I got in here and I met everybody and I’m friends with everybody, it’s turning into something else,” said Jackson, dressed in Army camouflage as he walked across campus. “It’s turning into more of a patriotic thing.”

Jackson was one of several ROTC cadets who attended on-campus lectures today by three members of the Defense Department’s “Why We Serve” outreach program, which places military speakers before audiences at venues across the U.S.

Like the future soldier, this morning’s speakers -- Air Force Capt. Edward V. Szczepanik, Marine Capt. John N. Sand and Marine Chief Warrant Officer Daniel K. Winnie -- began their military careers in the ROTC program.

As the meaning of Jackson’s ROTC experience grows from a mere financial means into a sense of national calling, the transformation reflects Szczepanik’s own metamorphosis.

“The reason I got in was for financial reasons; I needed the scholarship. But the reason I stay in is for guys like this,” said Szczepanik, pointing to the fellow military speakers onstage. “And I stay in for the guys that I fly with every day, who have become my brothers.”

Jackson said he regards experienced servicemembers like the “Why We Serve” panel almost like big brothers. “There are things I can learn from them,” he said. “I like hearing other people’s actual experiences from Iraq in addition to the things I hear on the news.”

After his expected graduation in 2012, Jackson, a possible math major, said he would like to serve as an intelligence officer the Army, following his commission as a second lieutenant. Like the speakers who addressed him today, the budding soldier’s career sounds imbued with a sense of purpose.

“I just like the idea of going and protecting the ones that I love back here,” he said.

Another cadet on hand to hear the “Why We Serve” speakers was Frederick Reier, a sophomore at the university with an academic focus on international relations. Reier, who is eager to join the Army’s ranks as a career officer in either the intelligence or infantry fields, is less certain of his career path than Jackson.

But if his military duty remains up in the air, his principles are as firmly grounded as those of the speakers he listened to today.

“A lot of the Army values are the things that I put in my own life,” he said. “I feel that if I’m going to have a job and I’m going to be making money, I might as well be making a difference while I’m doing that.

“I think we enjoy so many freedoms and I think I owe something back,” he added.

Following an afternoon presentation by the speakers, Aaron Dellinger, a junior-year history major, said the presentations are a good way for current servicemembers to share their stories on campus.

“What stuck out to me was that their reasons for serving are pretty personal, they’re not really complicated, it’s just that they want to serve and protect the guys next to them,” he said.

Second-year cadet David Louderback, who desires to be either an artillery or infantry officer in the Army, appreciated the even-handedness with which the troops told of their service.

“It’s not all gung ho and glory seeking. It’s to do the job, to do what they said – to serve your brothers and sisters in arms, to serve your country,” Louderback said. “It’s a higher purpose.”

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