University of Arizona graduates Clayton Utley and Maria Miller recently traded their cadet wings for gold bars as they were commissioned as second lieutenants in the U.S. Air Force in May.
The UA’s Reserve Officers' Training Corps, or ROTC, offers select students the training necessary to become successful officers in the U.S. military. The highly competitive program is designed to push students beyond their limitations through strenuous study and rigorous exercise.
Just as there are many paths that lead students to the UA, there are a number of reasons young adults choose to apply to the ROTC. Utley, a Tucson native, became interested in joining the military while attending Sabino High School. During his senior year, he met with a group of UA ROTC students who explained the program and what it means to be a commissioned officer.
“I got the chance to talk to a cadet who was learning to be a pilot and thought it sounded so cool," Utley said. "After I attended the student orientation, I knew this was the path I wanted to take in my life.”
Miller’s decision was more practical. During her senior year of high school, she realized money for college was scarce. After attending the ROTC student orientation, she decided the program would be a great way to pay for school with the guarantee of a job upon graduation.
Utley's path wasn't a smooth one, though, as a low GPA kept him out of the program the first time he applied. He improved his GPA and was accepted into the program during his sophomore year at Pima Community College.
“Completing the program taught me the value in not giving up, even when the challenge seems to be impossible to overcome,” Utley said.
Cadets are given added responsibilities during their junior and senior years to develop the leadership skills necessary to lead hundreds of military personnel in the fleet. During his senior year, Utley was assigned as flight commander of more than 25 freshmen and sophomore cadets.
“Seeing these cadets come into the program not knowing anything and grow into leaders is my favorite part of the job,” said Maj. Christina Flynn, operations flight commander for the UA Air Force ROTC and assistant professor of aerospace studies. “Seeing their leadership style start to develop and confidence begin to build is amazing.”
Along with leadership skills, cadets are taught how to manage their time and set goals. For cadets living on campus, these skills can be difficult to develop. Peer pressure from students who are not in the program is the challenge cadets’ deal with the most.
Time management was no easy task for Miller. She found balancing multiple jobs, the ROTC and academics to be her greatest struggle.
“It was challenging coming home after working all day and telling my friends I couldn’t go out because I had to wake up at 3:30 a.m.,” Miller said.
The challenges and obstacles all came with life lessons Utley and Miller will use in their new careers as military officers. After walking across the stage during the UA’s commencement in May, they were assigned their first duty stations.
Utley, who earned his degree in criminal justice, recently reported to the Sixth Security Forces Squadron (SFS) at Macdill Airforce Base in Tampa, Florida. He assists in controlling and securing the terrain inside and adjacent to Macdill, as well as the personnel, equipment and resources.
“We’re responsible for countless number of lives and are expected to perform under stressful conditions,” Utley said as he praised the ROTC for preparing him to seamlessly step into his military leadership role. “With everything going on in the world, this country is going to need great leaders.”
Miller is currently stationed near Columbus, Mississippi, and will soon report to Aviano Air Force Base in Aviano, Italy. As a logistics readiness officer, she will be responsible for managing the arrival and distribution of equipment and materials.
“It’s great to be in an organization that values you,” Miller said. “The military invests thousands of dollars in us so that we may serve the best we can. We are this country’s line of defense, and protecting our citizens is something I don’t take lightly.”
As they head off to start their careers in the military, Utley and Miller said they will always cherish the friendships they made at the UA in the ROTC.
“Cadets make best friends in the program,” Utley said. “You spend so much time together, you begin to create bonds with those that know the language that only you and other cadets understand.”
Flynn invites any student who is interested in the ROTC to stop by and see what the program has to offer.
“We will not let you fail. Our support system is designed to give you all the resources necessary to be successful in the program,” Flynn said. “If you set your goals and give it 100 percent, you will have the skills to not only excel in the program, but any path you decide to take in life.”