Nineteen-year-old Tracy Lautzenheiser loves shopping and hanging out with her friends. She takes her education seriously and enjoys time with her family. This all-American freshman is also a member of the Sam Houston State University ROTC program, where she is training to be an officer in the United States Army.
At a time where war is the topic of many conversations and doubts of the war are loudly voiced, Lautzenheiser and her fellow cadets are proud of the decision they made.
“I made the decision one night that I wanted to serve in the Army, but I still wanted a college degree,” Lautzenheiser said. “That is when I decided to join ROTC.
“I applied for a four-year scholarship and received one,” she said. “To be able to give something back to my country makes me know I’m doing something worthy with my life.”
The decision is one that her family strongly supports.
“It was hard for me to earn my father’s respect in high school. My brother was always prided on everything,” she said. “I know he was proud, but not like he is now. Every time I leave home his last words are always ‘I’m proud of you kid!'”
Lautzenheiser said she is just one of many in her family to join the military. She said she has grandfathers and uncles in various branches, including the Air Force and Army.
Lautzenheiser said her grandfather is proud to point out that she is the first female in the family to serve.
Lautzenheiser’s goal is to one day become a pilot in the U.S. Army and fly helicopters. She said she has already gained so much in her first year in the program.
“I hope to gain the skills of being a leader, so that when I am in charge of others I can lead them to success,” Lautzenheiser said. “ROTC is my second family.
“I have made friends in the program that are irreplaceable. The people are very accepting,” she said. “If I ever need help with anything, someone is there. They help get me through training when I’m having trouble and with classes. I’m very lucky to have them as friends.”
Lautzenheiser devotes much of her time to training to be an officer. She joins the battalion three days a week for 6 a.m. physical training. She also spends an extra hour or two each day training on her own or with other cadets to continually improve her physical and mental abilities.
In addition to the required activities with the ROTC program, Lautzenheiser participates in extracurricular activities offered by the department, including Ranger Company, an organization that trains and teaches cadets about the code of ethics of the Army Rangers, and Ranger Challenge, a group of cadets who train and compete in physical exercises against other universities.
Many of Lautzenheiser’s fellow classmates share her resolve to serve the country.
Third year Cadet Vanessa Moreno joined the program in August 2000.
“I joined because I feel like the military is a great way to establish leadership and discipline,” she said.
Moreno’s brother is serving as a medic in the Navy and currently works with the Marines.
“The war has not affected me,” Moreno said. “I have not decided to quit because of it; instead it shows me that we as Americans have to fight for what we believe in.”
Both said the reasons to join a military branch are as numerous as the people who join. Whether its patriotism, family tradition or to learn discipline and teamwork, the goals of these soldiers are the same, to protect the values and freedoms of America.