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Flying high in the ROTC
As the flight commander yells the order to stand at attention, the seven Air Force cadets of Charlie Flight snap their feet together in unison with their arms straight down to their sides.
From several yards away, Tia Hewuse stands silently watching the cadets practice drill maneuvers. As Cadet Wing Commander of Detachment 207, Hewuse is responsible for the training and discipline of all cadets in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) at Saint Louis University (SLU).
Nearby, Anne Ortwerth, Deputy Flight Commander for Foxtrot Flight, is given the command to stand at parade rest, with her feet spread apart and her hands cupped behind her back.
In the Air Force, a flight is a small subdivision of the unit as a whole. Individual flights are given a name based on the phonetic alphabet, an alphabet containing a separate character for each distinguishable speech sound commonly used in the military.
Hewuse and Ortwerth are two Webster University students currently enrolled in the Air Force ROTC program at SLU. Six other universities participate in the program: McKendree University, Lindenwood University, Southwestern Illinois College, Harris-Stowe State University, University of Missouri St. Louis and Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville.
Hewuse has been in the program for three and a half years and Ortwerth is in her first semester.
Training lasts all day every Wednesday at SLU. Throughout the day, cadets attend classes on Air Force knowledge, practice drill maneuvers and learn about life in the military.
Leading from the front
Hewuse is a senior media communications major at Webster. Her rank of Cadet Colonel is the highest rank a student can earn in the Air Force ROTC program. Under her command are a total of 84 cadets from the universities participating in the program. Hewuse said the responsibilities are stressful, but she has no regrets.
“I’m in charge of running our entire training program,” Hewuse said. “I don’t get paid anything more than I get paid from the Air Force. I do a lot more work than I have ever done, I just have to watch [my] time management. It’s definitely a lot of work, but it’s worth it.”
Hewuse is the first member of her family to serve in the military. The decision to join the Air Force came after her first semester at Webster, she said.
“I took that time during the first semester to research the opportunities and talked to a lot of service members,” Hewuse said. “They all said the same thing, the Air Force provides the best lifestyle and treats their people right. That’s the kind of branch I wanted to be part of.”
As a senior, Hewuse has already gone through field training and has secured an assignment as an officer in the Air Force after graduation. Field training is the month-long exercise at Maxwell Air Force Base (AFB) Alabama ROTC students must go through after their sophomore year to continue in the program.
During the first half of field training, cadets are tested on what they learned during their first two years in the program, Hewuse said. This includes categories like drill, ceremonies and physical training. In the second half at Maxwell, cadets are put into a simulated deployed environment where they learn expeditionary skills to help in combat, Hewuse said.
A new generation of leaders
Unlike Hewuse, Ortwerth, 19, said she knew she wanted to join the Air Force at two years old.
“I have had at least one family member participate in every war since the war between the states. [That is] the earliest one I know of,” Ortwerth said. “I chose the Air Force because of the history of seeing how well they treated my father. [As well as] the different opportunities available in the Air Force.”
Ortwerth is a freshman with a double major in mathematics and education, and a double minor in Spanish and computer science. Losing an entire day of the week to train makes for a busy schedule, Ortwerth said, but being involved in ROTC gives her motivation to do well in her classes.
Though Ortwerth will not go to field training until after her sophomore year, she said she will be continuing training until she receives her commission to enter the Air Force as a Second Lieutenant.
Cadets in the ROTC program are split into two categories; freshmen like Ortwerth and sophomores who receive the rank of Cadet Fourth Class and Cadet Third Class respectively. Underclassmen in these ranks are not obligated to join the military until they go through field training.
Relying on each other
Though Hewuse and Ortwerth represent the highest and lowest ranks of the ROTC program respectively, they work together to improve.
“Cadet Hewuse is taking time out of her day, twice a week, to work out [with me] so I don’t have to go up to SLU at the crack of dawn,” Ortwerth said. “[She] is willing to make sure that she pushes me so I can get better and be prepared for field training.”
For Hewuse, one of the best parts of being attached to the ROTC is helping and guiding underclassmen.
“There’s nothing more rewarding than mentoring a cadet,” Hewuse said. “Absolutely nothing. Just to see them improve is gratitude enough. It’s the coolest thing ever.”