As cheerleader Alexis Johnson was preparing for her freshman year at Webster University, she was completing military training at Fort Leonard Wood.
Several members of Johnson’s family served in the military, and she said joining the military was something she was interested in growing up in Memphis.
“Initially, I was going to join the military first, but after talking to my recruiters, they said go to school and do ROTC,” Johnson said. “Then go to the military, because it’s a smart choice.”
Johnson is part of the U.S. Army’s Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC), which is a university based officer training program.
Vet Success on Campus Counselor Jason Blakemore said after a student completes their ROTC program, they then start serving in their desired branch in the military as an officer.
“The ROTC program is there to make sure the student gets through their education training as well as any training they need in their military career,” Blakemore said. “The military knows and values that education they are getting from their institution is vital to their success as well. Kind of the best of both worlds for someone who wants to lead, and someone who wants to be in the military to serve their country.”
Johnson said the training involved in the ROTC program can be mentally and physically challenging.
“I hate to admit it, but it was a little intimidating,” Johnson said. “I got through it. It also helped that everybody worked as a team. It was hard, but we also made it fun.”
Johnson said the skills she has gained in her military training can be beneficial to cheerleading.
“You have to be able to stay mentally strong and that is beneficial because you will have teams that will intimidate you,” Johnson said. “They may be stronger, so you might feel down about it. So, you have to have a lot of mental strength to compete.”
Junior cheerleader Alexandria Ainsworth said Johnson works well with others and is able to execute what the coaches want.
“I think that background helps her stay focused and dedicated,” Ainsworth said. “It also helps her in strength to perform our more difficult stunts.”
Johnson is new to the sport of cheerleading, but head coach Justin Barton said her positive attitude and willingness to learn has helped her progress.
Barton said her military background has helped Johnson improve as a cheerleader.
“Alexis is hardworking and dedicated,” Barton said. “The physicality of both helps to prepare her for the duties she has to fulfill.”
Once Johnson graduates from Webster, she will be a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army. As she attends Webster, she will be able to complete her military training during her summer breaks.
Johnson said she plans on making a career out of military service.
“I know it will be a little longer than others because I’m going into [the military] after being in Webster for four years,” Johnson said. “Also, because of what I’m trying to do, I have to go to law school.”
Johnson will eventually become part of the Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) Corps when her schooling is finished. The JAG Corps is a specialty within the military that deals with military law and justice.
“A lot of people don’t know how you become a lawyer in the military,” Johnson said. “You don’t just leave law school and become a JAG in the military. It doesn’t work that way. You start as a paralegal and work your way up.”
Blakemore said there are different standards and procedures to military law.
“The military is always looking for different professions, medical, law and other areas,” Blakemore said. “That will work out well for her hopefully, and also for the branch of service she joins.”
When Johnson was younger, she said, she wanted to be in combat, but later decided she wanted to be a lawyer.
Johnson said she will be behind the scenes, but there is a chance she could get deployed to a hotspot. She also said it is a misconception that she will avoid combat situations because she is a lawyer.
“If they deploy your unit over to Afghanistan and they got down on soldiers and need more soldiers, yeah you are a lawyer, but right now you’re a soldier,” Johnson said. “You are going to be on the front lines … You’re a soldier first and then your occupation comes later.”