Senior Cadet Colonel Matthew Sargent serendipitously landed in the Air Force ROTC after a series of fortunate events. Scoring well on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) test in high school, the Army ROTC recruited Sargent, but an Air Force recruiter in the same building caught him first. Finding his niche in military leadership, Sargent described Air Force ROTC to be rich in education and valuable life experiences.
The Northern Light: How did you end up in Alaska?
Matthew Sargent: I used to be active duty Air Force and I was stationed in Germany and I applied for a scholarship with ROTC. I had to pick essentially two schools: one, a high cost school so I picked Duke and one, a lower cost school so I picked UAA because of the political science program, and so here I am.
TNL: What’s your favorite part of being in ROTC?
MS: As someone that’s coming from active duty, my points of view might be a little skewed from most people. But my favorite part is meeting with other people in terms of other officers, other professionals that they bring in to talk with us.
We get to do a question and answer session to learn about their experiences, where they’re coming from and some of the high points. We talk a lot about leadership, because that’s essentially eventually what we’ll be doing. So I like learning a lot about that.
TNL: Why did you pick the Air Force as opposed to other branches of the armed forces?
MS: When I was in high school, I had just thought that I would go the standard college route. Find a degree and major in it. In my high school they made everybody take the ASVAB. It’s like a SAT or ACT test that measures your skills and abilities. It helps if you were to join the military place you in a job.
And I took it, didn’t think anything of it, then I got a call two months later from the Air Force saying ‘you scored really high, in fact you qualify for everything so we want to talk to you about it.’ I didn’t really give it too much thought, but I talked to my parents, talked to some of their friends and they encouraged me to look into it. I did that and found that’s the route I wanted to take.
Initially I was looking at the Army because the Army called me but then an Air Force recruiter in the same building caught me and pulled me in. I sat down with him and I decided it was the way to go. Almost blind luck I guess would be the short answer.
TNL: What are your plans after graduation?
MS: In terms of the Air Force, I’m going to be a public affairs officer so at the very least for the next four years that’s what I’ll be doing. And I’m slated to go down to Whiteman Air Force base in Missouri and essentially do public affairs and public relations with the 509th bomb wing.
TNL: What do you think students should know about Air Force ROTC?
MS: It’s the military, (and although) we’re not in the military, we still live and breathe the military culture. I see that sometimes when our cadets are walking around campus, I don’t want to say that people sneer at them, but people definitely look at us differently. I think that’s maybe from just not understanding what it is that we’re doing.
We salute each other on campus when we’re in uniform. That can really raise some eyebrows. One of the things our commander always says is you have to remember the context. The context behind us is that we’re training for an active duty spot; we’re training to go into the armed services. So just remember the context around what we’re doing.
TNL: Anything else you’d like to add?
MS: One of the things we tout as the military is the benefit to travel, and while we tout it a lot I still think it’s severely underestimated. While I was in tech school I was down in Mississippi and it just so happened that Hurricane Katrina happened to roll through. So as an airman I was in the service for less than a year, right around the eight or nine-month period, I was able to help with some of the humanitarian efforts down in the south, such as handing out water, handing out food, moving debris, all kinds of stuff. That experience was really awesome.
My next duty station was in Germany. It was so amazing to be in Germany because if you’re in the lower 48 here, say you’re in Kansas, you can drive north, go to Michigan. Or south, go to Texas. You’re essentially going to a different state, in the U.S. In Germany, it’s amazing because they’re the size of a state. But you drive north and you’re in a completely different country. You could be in Amsterdam, drive to the northeast and you can be in Sweden or Norway, you could drive south and be in Austria or Italy. So some of the awesome ability to easily travel around especially if you’re overseas is just amazing.
TNL: Do you have any advice to students interested in joining ROTC?
MS: Our leadership laboratories are completely open, so if you arrange it with the teacher you can come in and sit in on a leadership laboratory. If you catch us on the right day, we may be doing all kinds of fun stuff. We built bridges last week at the Wells Fargo Sports Complex so if they just want to come see what’s going on, see what the program is about, one of the best ways is to come to one of our leadership laboratories. Just come in and keep an open mind and have fun with us.
After the interview, Major Richard Maze assured me that Sargent’s responsibilities are much higher due to his unique position in the Air Force ROTC.
“There’s a chain of command we have in ROTC, we have 64 cadets and he’s the top cadet. So his workload is far more than the average cadet,” Maze said.