cholarship opportunities lure potential cadets to apply, but it’s not all about the money. Often ROTC students seek leadership training and an opportunity to serve their communities and the nation. Many universities, in fact, have reported a rise in ROTC interest since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, despite the possibility that as officers they might be called for active duty.

“While our cadets must understand there is a very good chance they may go to war at some point in their career, it will not be right after completion of AFROTC,” says Captain Douglas A. Vetrano, United States Air Force assistant professor of aerospace studies at the University of Miami Detachment 155. “There is much more technical and specialized training an individual goes through to prepare for war.”

Being deployed for the real thing doesn’t weigh heavy on McGill’s mind. He says it’s what he has been training for all along. His typical day is far different from that of private sector, office-based engineers. He arrives at the base at 7:30 a.m., is briefed, then flies at least once, maybe twice a day. He and his fighter pilot colleagues practice dropping inert bombs and fly air-to-air combat missions, simulating enemy maneuvers. “Everyone has a small part to play in the big scheme of things,” he says.

Some prospective AFROTC cadets want to be a flying ace like McGill. The UM detachment is one of two Air Force detachments in the nation to employ a $160,000 flight simulator, not only as a teaching tool, but as a recruiting tool. Engineering students use the simulator to test their concepts on aircraft design. “We also allow people in the community to use it because we want to present a positive image of the Air Force,” says Vetrano, who recently was named the ROTC Education Officer of the Year by the U.S. Air Force.

Other young people sign up for the Air Force with no intention of flying planes in combat. “We are here to produce officers for the Air Force first and foremost, regardless of what career field he or she may go into,” Vetrano says.

Melissa Dorn, an AFROTC cadet and UM sophomore on full military scholarship, has very different plans: a pediatrician or other health care provider. “My dad was in the Air Force. I would love to take care of kids who are growing up in military families,” she says. “If I get accepted to medical school, I will apply for a different ROTC scholarship that is based on medicine, then complete medical school and residency before becoming an officer.”

“We’re training them to be leaders—both in the Air Force and as citizens,” says Captain Matthew W. McAndrew, United States Air Force assistant professor of aerospace studies at UM Detachment 155.

Learning discipline and leadership skills starts with taking on important roles within the local and University communities. Some cadets are members of the Arnold Air Society, a national service organization for which they do three service projects per semester. “They’ve done blood drives for the local community and visits to World War II veterans at the Miami VA hospital,” McAndrew says. “They’ve gone to elementary schools to teach students how to read, and they’ve volunteered to raise money for cancer.”

Cadets who are members of the Color Guard display the U.S. flag and represent the AFROTC detachment at formal events, such as at football and basketball games, when the national anthem is played. “At other functions around the local area, we get a lot of requests to have the Color Guard available,” Vetrano explains, “so that people can show a patriotic respect to the flag.”

Summer training programs, not a requirement but a perk of the AFROTC, are paid positions that allow cadets to shadow Air Force officers and learn about languages, flying, gliding, and more. At a one- to three-week program called Operation Air Force, cadets are exposed to different specialties by working on an operational Air Force base. “It’s to try to motivate them toward an Air Force career,” Vetrano says.

All freshman cadets on a four-year scholarship, including Melissa Dorn, attend a similar session called the Rising Sophomore program. This summer Dorn shadowed people who work in mission support, maintenance, operations, and medicine at Charleston Air Force Base in South Carolina. “My favorite was the medical group,” Dorn says. “I shadowed two doctors; one was a pediatrician, and another was a flight medicine physician.”

Amal Nazzall, a UM senior psychology major and AFROTC cadet, attended a four-week boot camp last summer that was challenging but affirmed her direction in the military. “When you wake up to the annoying sound of a horn every morning at 4 or 5 a.m., and you’re on your feet all day long, constantly under pressure,” she says, “it’s definitely one of those times when you get to know yourself and decide, ‘Do I really want to do this?’”

Nazzall is planning to be an intelligence officer in the Air Force’s equivalent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, called the Office of Special Investigations. Her ultimate career goal is the FBI. The value of her hard work and training rang clear last October, when she commanded the Florida conference for the Arnold Air Society. When one person on her staff had a seizure, she acted swiftly. “I’m so happy that I had all that experience dealing with being under pressure and thinking about what to do in circumstances that are not routine,” she says.

While GPA, SAT scores, and community service play into whether high school students qualify for the AFROTC program, one of the most important things is integrity.

“The future leaders of the United States Air Force need to instinctively know the difference between right and wrong and have the moral courage to make a tough call, even though it may be an unpopular decision,” Vetrano says.

“I’ve developed so much, not only as a leader, but also I know a lot more about myself,” says Nazzall. “I feel more comfortable in my own skin—more comfortable with my abilities.”

Lisette Hilton is a freelance writer in Boca Raton, Florida. Photography by John Zillioux and Pyramid Photographics.

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