U is for Uniformed: Junior leads in her Army greens

Henderson junior Jessica Howard follows orders during a field drill on WKU’s practice track field. Howard said she didn’t only join for the financial support provided to students. “I wanted to serve — it was pure choice,” Howard said.

Mercedes Trent

Lying on the damp ground with wind blowing through her thin ROTC uniform, Henderson junior Jessica Howard waited for orders during a patrol simulation exercise in the weekly ROTC lab.

“Not many people get to experience this,” she said. “Not many get the opportunities and skills the military offers. They try to put us in as real situations as possible.”

She stays alert throughout the two-hour lab, even after beginning her morning with physical training at 6:25 a.m. followed by a day of classes.

Howard, who is currently serving as 1st Lt. while a part of the ROTC’s two-week leadership rotation, begins the labs – practice sessions during which cadets learn practical skills such as battle drills – by greeting the cadets with “Good afternoon, Hilltoppers” and follows with announcements and role call.

As the MS3 cadets (juniors) march to the track to begin drills, Howard leads them in cadences to help them keep time.

In her three years of ROTC, Howard has grown into leadership roles and is beginning to understand their practical applications.

“In your college setting, you’re leading students in a close setting but in the active Army, you’re leading people of all different walks of life, and you’re responsible for those lives – each individual soldier,” she said.

Howard recently earned real-life experience in her leadership role when the ROTC traveled to Fort Campbell for a weekend trip from March 25-27. While doing practical work outdoors, it began to sleet on the squad Howard led, and she knew she would have to be an attentive leader.

“When your soldiers are cold and wet and miserable, their morale can drop,” she said. “You have to set the example by keeping your attitude in check and let them relax. As the saying goes, ‘Mission first, soldiers always.’ That is what I had in mind the whole weekend. In my position, I really learned to be resilient and roll with the punches.”

Greenville senior Gavin Hill, who runs the labs for MS3 cadets, says leadership abilities like Howard’s are important to the program.

“Essentially what ROTC does is we try to identify people who have the capacity to learn what we’re trying to teach them and who have the ability to get out in front and who aren’t scared to be leaders,” Hill said.

Master Sgt. Mike Rosemore pushes the idea of leadership among his cadets.

“Every sort of leadership needs to have a defining moment,” he said. “It’s communicating with people as a person. You can’t fake that.”

In addition to her ROTC responsibilities and studies, Howard, an anthropology major minoring in military science, works in the military science lab, volunteers often at the Humane Society and still fits in activities with her sorority, Sigma Kappa.

Howard admits that it’s a lot for one person, but she couldn’t imagine her life without ROTC.

“I know I wouldn’t be half as busy, but I would have missed out on a lot,” she said.