Washington County cadets receive rare scholarships from U.S. Air Force – St George News

ST. GEORGE — Typically, if students overload their high school schedule with advanced placement courses, perform extremely well on their college placement tests or are exceptional athletes, they can improve their chances of a full-ride scholarship. To receive one from the United States Air Force, though, they need grit.

The Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps is composed of more than 860 squadrons of high school students who wake up and start their day marching, training, staying in shape and preparing for their futures — all before school.

Each year, the Air Force awards 100 full-ride college scholarships to their most accomplished junior cadets. More than 8,000 apply from every state in the nation, Puerto Rico and Guam. So it is rare when a small program has two cadets honored.

St. George News met with two high school seniors from Southern Utah who make up half of the J-100 Scholarships awarded statewide in 2023.

Crimson Cliffs High School

Katelynn Walls has a lifetime history influenced by the military. She is the granddaughter of refugees who fled Vietnam with her mother during the war. And grandparents on both sides of her family proudly served in the military, Walls said.

Her pride in the armed forces grew after meeting Ret. Maj. Donald Richardson, a Washington veteran who passed away nearly one year ago. Before leaving, he instilled a passion for the Air Force and encouraged her to join the local junior ROTC.

Crimson Cliffs High School senior Katelynn Walls was recently awarded an Air Force J-100 scholarship | Photo by Haven Scott, St. George News

“He was a big role model and mentor to me,” she said.

Her commitment was obvious to her current commander, Lt. Col. Thomas Brown, who said she rose through the ranks with ease. After proving herself as the “comm’s director,” she achieved leadership of the Pine View High School junior ROTC program and is currently group commander.

When she is not preparing drill plans for the squad, she enjoys pinning people down, literally. She helped start the Mustangs girl’s wrestling team taking first place in regionals and fourth in the state in her weight class.

“If it wasn’t fun, it wouldn’t be worth it,” Walls said. “But there are so many leadership opportunities, leadership-wise and experience-wise, and on top of that — all of it is so much fun. So there is no reason to not do it.”

While still undecided on which college she wants to attend after high school, she said it will definitely be one with a focus on aerospace engineering.

“I want to help explore outer space and design rovers,” Walls said. “I think I would be really good at that.”

Pine View High School

Pine View student body president Rysann Clark was awarded a full-ride Air Force scholarship | Photo by Haven Scott, St. George News

Rysann Clark has never been able to sit for long, be told she can’t do something or think that boys are more skilled. With many brothers, she was always competing. Her mother told St. George News she was originally scared about letting her daughter join the junior ROTC. In hindsight, it was the best thing for her daughter.

Clark is currently the president of the student body at Pine View, but not the kind stereotyped in movies. Although she does have a 4.0 grade point average, she is also a national champion ninja warrior. She has already obtained her professional pilot’s license and is in the process of flight training. Her goal is to fly solo.

Clark couldn’t pin down one motivating factor for her will to succeed, rather it is a combination of all life experiences, she said.

“You’re just so used to doing it all, that you just keep doing it,” Clark said. “For me, it is knowing that you can succeed even if you’re not perfect at what you are doing. The feeling I get when achieving a goal is so overwhelming. That is what motivates me.”

And while competing on a national stage, college placement tests or piloting an aircraft 5 miles above sea level doesn’t scare her, she does have one fear.

“I would say failure, but failure only helps you grow,” Clark said of her fears. “I’m always trying to do my best at everything I do. So failure doesn’t scare me, but my family, my friends and my community, I don’t want to let anybody down.”

AFJROTC cadets participate in drill practice | Photo by Haven Scott, St. George News

She too rose the ranks at the Pine View junior ROTC, also gaining experience as comms director and currently second-in-command of the unit that combines Pine View, Crimson Cliffs and Hurricane high school’s cadets.

“It is the best thing that has ever happened for her,” said Rysann’s mother, Christy Clark.

‘From cradle to grave’

Both girls are the recipients of the general Sterling Scholar awards at their respective schools. Both achieved the ranking of Cadet Colonel. And the successes of both during their time have only helped his program, said Pine View’s Air Force Junior ROTC commander, Lt. Col. Thomas Brown.

There are only two junior ROTC programs in Southern Utah, with the other being at Dixie High School, which combines with Snow Canyon and Desert Hills. The long-term goal for these programs is for each high school to have its own Air Force junior ROTC unit, so students don’t have to travel for drills, Brown said.

Less than two weeks ago, Pine View’s junior ROTC completed inspections and evaluations from representatives of the U.S. Air Force. Results are not available, but Brown said he was assured his unit is among “the model programs” in the nation.

He credits the two recipients who made it all possible and the colleges are taking notice already.

“They already have $1.8 million in offers from colleges if you add them all up — these girls don’t slouch,” Brown said. “Anything I have assigned, they finish. From cradle to grave.”

AFJROTC cadets participate in drill practice | Photo by Haven Scott, St. George News

Being communications director means planning trips for training and social events, he said, something both girls excelled at, which included hotels, car rentals, cabs, dining and airplane tickets for a whole squadron of cadets, to whitewater rafting trips on the Colorado River and training in Hawaii. Either way, it is a lot of work for one person, Brown said.

“I had parents calling me asking, ‘You’re letting a teenager arrange this trip?’ and I would tell them every time, they have nothing to worry about,” he said. “And they never did. These two ladies are phenomenal — they have everything to do with the positive comments we received during evaluations.”

Junior ROTC from throughout the state of Utah will be competing for bragging rights next month in St. George. This will give Walls and Clark a chance to meet the other J-100 Scholarship winners from the Beehive State.

Christian Hodge, public affairs at Air Force Junior ROTC headquarters in Alabama, two northern Utah students were awarded J-100 Scholarships this year: Megan Harris, from Wasatch High School in Heber, and Caleb Johnson, from the Utah Military Academy in Lehi.

“The future poses challenges that the U.S. Air Force has never faced before,” said Director Col. Johnny McGonigal. “The 100 cadets selected for the 2023 scholarship met required academic and physical fitness standards and were ultimately selected by a board of Air Force civilians, officers, and senior non-commissioned officers.”

St. George News has seen several mayors and city councilmen sweat when asked for an interview. Walls and Clark showed nothing but courage, willingness and a smile.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2023, all rights reserved.

Source link

Leave a Comment