India and Juliet Companies graduate with bright futures ahead
Although the sky was overcast and rain threatened to put a damper on the ceremony, family and friends attending the 5th Regiment of the Leader Development Course had high morale, anxiously awaiting the release of their cadets.
Precipitation held off as Col. Brian Mennes welcomed the families in attendance. He said his job makes him the luckiest man in America and that during his time with the regiment, he’s met cadets with eyes and hearts full of potential.
“They’re joining the less than 1 percent of Americans who stand up and say, ‘I will defend,’” Mennes said. “Those universally righteous and inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. This is a uniquely American event where people volunteer to join their service in the Army. They don’t swear allegiance to a king or a flag or some general but to an idea, a thought, a promise.”
Several cadets were awarded for exemplifying outstanding skills. Juliet Company Cadet Jennifer Swymeler of Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant received the First Command Financial Planning Award. She was presented with a hatchet emblazoned with the title on its handle.
Although the road to graduation was a challenge, Swymeler said LTC was an important step in her journey to becoming an officer of the Army.
“It was demanding yet very insightful and it gave you a lot of knowledge toward who you want to grow up to be and what kind of leader you want to be when you become a lieutenant,” she said.
India Company Cadet Rachel Bellafiore of Rowan University in Glassboro, New Jersey said she definitely learned a lot during her stay at Fort Knox.
“It was an experience,” she said. “I learned a lot. An experience that I learned a lot from.”
Although Rachel had originally intended to join the Navy, her school only offered the Army program. She said she’s happy with her decision to try ROTC and she plans to attend LDAC next summer.
Her aunt Alice Bellafiore, who is retired from the Navy, made the trek from Tennessee to watch Rachel graduate.
“[This is] fantastic,” Alice said. “It’s awesome. I’m thrilled she decided to join. The military’s wonderful for young people.”
Swymeler decided to join ROTC because her grandfather served in the military.
“I want to turn around and give back to the country that he served,” she said.”
A highlight of Swymeler’s training came during a time of punishment.
“One of the best experiences was when were getting smoked by one of the drill sergeants,” she said, laughing. “We all came together when it was about 45 minutes into it and we all pulled together and started yelling at each other and motivating each other. The sense of family was definitely there.”
For that reason, Swymeler said she advises those interested in ROTC to attend LTC.
“If you’re considering going into ROTC, definitely go through LTC first. It’ll give you a very clear decision and it’s amazing, it’s a great growing and learning experience so definitely try it,” she said.
If Rachel had one piece of advice for future LTC cadets, it would be to not smile.
“Don’t smile,” she said, a large grin plastered across her face. “You’re not allowed to smile. Put your teeth away, that’s how they word it.”