Typically, an officer has intelligence, good leadership skills and maintains a high level of physical fitness. I may have displayed some intelligence, but not much of the other two traits. I was a shy and quiet girl who was terrified of speaking in front of more than three people, and I’m sure my father was wondering how I thought I was going to be a leader. As for physical fitness, forget about it.
Regardless of all this, I went ahead and applied. Now high school students can apply on–line at www.afrotc.com, but back then, I had to pick up an application at a recruiting office. In March, before I graduated from high school, I was awarded a scholarship through the Air Force to major in Chinese. It was one of the happiest days of my life, despite the fact that my scholarship only paid for part of my tuition. I was hoping for a full scholarship, but I learned later that most of the students who receive full scholarships are engineering students, a subject in which I had no interest.
It may seem that at this point, I had everything set for me, but this was not the case. My scholarship was conditional and would be mine only when I passed a medical exam along with a physical fitness test. I was more concerned about being disqualified for my pathetic physical fitness abilities which could ruin my chances of attending my dream school. I spent the summer before my freshman year preparing for the physical fitness test (PFT) by doing sit–ups every evening before bed, running a torturous 1.5 miles every day and attempting to practice my pushups. The only event I could do well was the sit–ups, but I ran too slowly and my push–ups were actually push–with–no–ups. The sad thing was I only had to do 9 to pass.
I did pass my first PFT, but only barely. That was the day that my life with ROTC truly began. I was given the oath of office and enlisted into the Air Force. I signed a contract to serve four years of active duty in the Air Force after I graduate. My peers tell me today that I’m lucky to have a job lined up for me after graduation, but luck alone cannot get one through ROTC. I like to look at it as a four–year long job interview, because I was constantly evaluated and challenged to improve myself. But it was the challenges that made it worthwhile.
The words “Air Force ROTC” conjure different meanings for different people. Some see it as a scholarship program, while others see it as a chance to become a pilot, but for me it symbolizes the best decision of my life. ROTC stands for Reserve Officer Training Corps and is a program which trains college students to become military officers. When the students graduate, they get commissioned as lieutenants. Once my friends found out that I was going to be in Air Force ROTC, they asked me all kinds of questions, and the following are just a few examples. Why would you ever want to do that? Five years ago, I didn’t have a strong, solid answer. I only knew it was something I wanted to do, but now I can say with conviction that it’s important to me to have this opportunity to give back to serve my country and its people. What if you die? Well, everyone dies, and dying for my country is a pretty good way to go if you ask me. But you’re a girl. Thank you for noticing. All you would be doing is following orders. I would hate to have to do that. Regardless if you’re in the military or not, you will always have a boss. The military happens to be known for its discipline, and as an officer, my job would be to not only follow orders, but also to make decisions and give orders too. You’re Chinese. What if we go to war with China? Whose side would you be on? This is a simple answer: obviously the United States. The thing is, I may be of Chinese descent, but up until a few years ago, I had never set foot on mainland China before. I was born in America and that’s where I grew up. My allegiance remains with only this country, as it’s the only country that’s given me a home and my way of life. I took some of these questions into consideration throughout the scholarship application process, but let me explain why I even decided to apply. My father knew of my intent to apply to Washington University and was appalled at the cost of tuition. He declared that if I were accepted, I would have to find a way to fund my education. He recommended that I look into the Air Force ROTC program for scholarships.