Florida Spring Break cements military group’s bond

Many of the 35 college students in the Air Force ROTC could tell you in one word why they joined the program: opportunities. One opportunity for the University of Alaska Anchorage's ROTC group knocked this month. Fifteen of Alaska's first ROTC detachment, along with two cadre, or faculty, got to fly to Florida and Pensacola for Spring Break.

Like many college students on Spring Break, they went far from home, stayed on a beach for about a week and came home bruised and tired. Unlike most, though, they didn't drink alcohol. Instead, they job shadowed pilots and intelligence personnel, visited Elgin Air Force Base — a weapons testing ground and space surveillance squadron, Hurlburt Field — a Special Operations Command — and Pensacola Naval Air Station. And they bonded.

“We solidified our foundation,” said Gerrit Dalman, a sophomore who is planning on declaring a history major. Like the others, Dalman is excited to be part of the new group, one that has a hand in the decisions of what would be best for an Alaska ROTC unit.           

“This is the first activity in which the detachment was forced to work together, so we (now) recognize we are a unit.”

After graduating from Juneau-Douglas High School in 1999, he was judged “noncompetitive” by the Air Force Ace Academy and denied entrance. He came to Anchorage to complete the prerequisites he needed to go on to another ROTC school outside Alaska until the school grew on him.

“I decided to stay halfway through my first semester. In that time, I got to know the university a little better,” he said. “Certainly, it's cheaper.”

Dalman, who, is not on contract with the Air Force yet, spent eight years in the Civil Air Patrol, a military cadet leadership program that often does emergency rescue work. He has a “glider only” pilot's license.

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Like many of the cadets, Dalman's family background is in the service. “My father was in the U.S. Navy in Vietnam; my grandfather was in the Army Corp of Engineers. My mother's father was in the Coast Guard. I'm the first to seek a commission, though, (as an officer)” he said.

Eli Bray, a psychology major also from Juneau-Douglas High School, came to UAA for the psychology program and was a psychology and justice major for a while. She found her calling, though, when she saw a piece of paper pinned to a board at UAA.

“I couldn't believe ROTC was coming here!” She said. “So I joined.”

Her favorite part of Spring Break was soaking up information. After trailing Intelligence personnel around, she said, “They were able to tell me all I needed to know about Psychological Warfare.”

“There's seven different types of Intel (Intelligence) and Psychological Warfare is just one of them,” she said.

Bray, who has also committed to an Air Force life, is interested in “dealing with the enemy, taking away their advantage and trying to pull information from someone one on one.” Bray's family has been involved with the military, government or law enforcement for six generations — “treasurer, officers, police, and sheriffs, CIA,” she said.

Nathan Alonzo, a 1998 North Pole High School graduate, said he had to get warm in the hotel hot tub during Spring Break.

“It was cold in Florida with the wind off the water. It's not like in the commercials,” he said. It was about 60 to 65 degrees.

Alonzo also got to job shadow an officer during Spring Break and wouldn't trade his experience for anything.

“Every guy in my family has been an officer in the Air Force forever,” he said.

Alonzo, who recently signed on for a 10-year commitment with the Air Force, was previously denied entrance to the Air Force because his SATs were too low.

After graduating from high school, he went directly to the University of Arizona, where he attended ROTC until his father told him about UAA's new ROTC program.

He said the chance to be part of a first detachment was too good to pass up.

The age of current cadets range from 18 to 28, some single, some married, and even one single mother: Amy Kolb.           

Kolb, the first in her family to sign on as military property (“They all think I'm crazy,” she said), enjoyed being challenged on the obstacle course over Spring Break.

“That was a blast,” she said. But she also liked the bonding provided by a trip that put the group together for 20 hours a day for six days.

Too short to pilot at under 5-foot 4 inches, the minimum, she makes up for her height with toughness. She was the top-scoring female in physical fitness test with a score of 496 out of 500 recently.

Kolb participated in ROTC at Chugiak High School before attending Marquette University in Wisconsin. Then, in her sophomore year, she dropped out and had a baby. Now divorced with a 2-year-old, the junior justice major is looking at the Office of Special Investigations as a future option.

The ROTC cadets who sign on and complete the program through scholarships can come on as officers through the Professional Officer Corps Incentive Program. Other scholarship programs are also offered through ROTC, including those for leadership and nursing. For more information, e-mail AFROTC at [email protected]