Blanks rattled out of the capped M16-A1 rifle fired by senior cadet battalion commander Jessica May.
She shouted attack orders as WSU Army ROTC cadets charged down a slope toward her and the fewer than a dozen freshmen cadets she was leading in a simulated war mission.
Back home, her Pi Beta Phi sorority sisters and her almost 3-year-old son Wayne waited for May to return and share stories of her leadership adventures.
One-hundred-and-twenty WSU military science (MS) cadets, classified by class ranking (1 through 4), participated for three days in a university-organized war simulation from April 15-17.
May is one of several senior cadets who helped lead and participated in Army ROTC’s Leadership Training Exercise (LDX).
“It’s incredible to see how much these cadets change in three days,” May said. “I love being a part of their growth.”
The goal of this activity, and the LDX event as a whole, was to continue training the young cadets in ROTC fundamentals outside of the classroom. No matter the outcome, succeeding is simply putting into practice teachings in hands-on situations.
“Coming into Army ROTC I had a lot of book knowledge,” she said. “But I didn’t have experience. They gave that to me.”
The simulations she participated in during LDX provided the same experience for the cadets she worked with. She was able to influence cadets who are in the same position she was four years ago.
May is one of many cadets actively involved with the ROTC program but still working full time outside of it while balancing school and personal responsibilities.
“You have to pick and choose what’s important to you,” May said. “I’ve decided what is important to me.”
May is a single mom and has decided to be involved in Army ROTC, a sorority, roller derby, WSU’s social science degree, and work part-time as an employee for the College of Education.
“When I became pregnant freshman year I didn’t want my life to be put on hold,” she said. “I wanted to do everything else I planned to do and be a good mom, too.”
May began her collegiate experience with Army ROTC as a WSU freshman after four years of junior ROTC in high school. She was determined to enlist after school by working hard and finding a community that would support her.
“I’ve always known I want to serve and be a part of something greater,” she said.
Sgt. Robert Baca and Sgt. Christopher Lum are two Army ROTC administrative leaders who have helped make May’s goals a reality.
“When I met her she had just had her baby,” Baca said. “She had struggled prior to birth to pass the PT (physical training) test. There was a concern about her getting contracted.”
May took a break from ROTC half way through her freshman year to have her son. She was determined to jump right back into the program her sophomore year.
After sitting down with Baca and Lum, May researched what she needed to do to come up with a healthy regimen and presented it to Baca.
“Being in college, maintaining a GPA, and just giving birth is hard,” Baca said. “We were concerned about her burning out. But she had a drive.”
Within six months May passed her physical training test and was contracted as a cadet. She will be commissioned as a field artillery officer and graduate from WSU in a few weeks.
“When she started she was put in a difficult situation in her life and she had to grow up faster than most college kids,” Lum said. “It takes a mature person to understand the consequences of your decisions and do something with them.”
Both Baca and Lum acknowledge May is years ahead of her peers in maturity and has learned a lot from ROTC and everything else she is involved in.
“I knew from the beginning she was going to shine because of everything she was learning how to manage,” Baca said.
May said she agrees her college experience has changed her for the best.
“Everything I’m involved in has mandatory requirements,” she said. “It’s taught me I have to learn to say no to extra stuff. It has given me a huge advantage in time management and looking at the big picture.”
The big picture for May is raising her son well and eventually working for the military as a counselor. After graduation, she plans to pursue her masters degree in professional counseling through Grand Canyon University.
“I like to deal with people. That’s why I like the army,” she said. “The army is a people place. I want to make sure both the soldier and their family are supported.”
Baca, Lum and many of May’s peers are confident this will become her reality.
“Her biggest struggle when she started ROTC was being confident she could help people,” Lum said. “She is a good-natured person. She wants to pass on what she has learned. Now that she is confident she can help, she will.”
After several missions with cadets of various rankings, May’s leadership position as battalion commander was passed on to another cadet. LDX came to a close.
But she said wasn’t disappointed. She knows the cadets can handle themselves. She taught them everything she knew and was moving on to teach others even more.
“I haven’t really thought about this being my last time doing this event,” she said. “But I’m excited. The cadets have grown a lot. They did well this weekend.”
Baca, Lum and other administrative military science leaders said the same about May.
“We expect great things from May,” Baca said.
EDITORS NOTE: Originally published April 19, 2016 in The Daily Evergreen.