This year’s group of five cadets — Seth Sheppard, William Law, Chris Burnette, Endoakachew Kinfemichael and Parker Pauley — will have their bars pinned on their uniforms in addition to receiving diplomas and handshakes from UVa-Wise’s chancellor and administrators at commencement.
On Wednesday, the five were getting ready to turn in Army-furnished equipment, sign paperwork and preparing to make the shift from cadets and college student to officers in the Army Reserve.
“One reason I joined ROTC was I wanted to place myself in an organization where I could make a difference and give back to my country,” said Law, from Earlysville, Va.
Burnette, from Galax, had been in JROTC in high school and said his father encouraged him when he started looking at ROTC.
“I decided I like the Army way of life,” Burnette added.
Salem, Va., resident Sheppard already had military experience, having enlisted in the National Guard and then going to UVa-Wise and making the move to ROTC.
“I had a strong interest in serving,” said Pauley, of Sod, W. Va, “and it was a way to pay for college, get my degree and have military experience.”
Kinfemichael, a native of Ethiopia and an Arlington, Va., resident, transferred to UVa-Wise and found his way into the program. He said he was impressed with how the ROTC instructors and cadets encouraged each other to push themselves physically and academically.
All five cadets said the program has been demanding physically and intellectually, but they also agreed that it has given them a sense of what leadership and taking care of their people are about.
“Everyone you stand in front of is looking up to you,” Sheppard said of the responsibility that comes with becoming an officer.
The cadets will take different paths after May 11. Sheppard said he is entering the Salem police academy this summer before specializing in transportation, while Kinfemichael heads to Baltimore’s police academy before entering the Army’s Signal Corps. Pauley plans to enter the Army’s chemical warfare corps. Burnette will enter the Quartermaster Corps while Law heads to the Adjutant General Corps.
Retired Army Maj. Marc Sandefur, head instructor of the UVa-Wise ROTC program, said that 25 graduates have been commissioned since the program started in 2009. They have gone into combat, technological and support specialties ranging from infantry to cyber warfare, he said, and still keep in touch with the UVa-Wise program.
“It’s been a tight-knit group,” Sandefur said of past graduates. “These guys will be missed.”
“All of them have grown up,” instructor Tom Scholl said of this year’s graduates. “They’ve definitely matured over the past four years. Whatever’s been thrown at them, they think it through and solve it.”