On Centre: Penns Valley | Graduate gets unexpected award from Marines

On Centre: Penns ValleyJuly 6, 2014 

With plans to join the Army last year, Brandi Heckman recently recieved an award she never saw coming — from the Marine Corps, instead.

The 2013 Penns Valley Area High School graduate was recognized at an award ceremony in May for getting a full scholarship to Penn State through the Marines program, according to information from the school district.

Heckman, a Penn State sophomore from Spring Mills, is aiming for a bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism with a minor in military history — while being a part of the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps.

Heckman said that in high school, she took part in several activities but wasn’t sure about her future. So she turned to the military.

“I did all this stuff, but didn’t know what I was going to do,” Heckman said. “I thought of enlisting in the Army and thought about the ROTC program at Penn State if I got a scholarship through it to help me get through college comfortably, financially.”

She took the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test and then ran into a recruiter from the Marines — while preparing for the Army.

“I was there with the Army and there was a Marine recruiter who I thought was totally shady, just looking to get me to switch over,” she said. “I think it ended up being a blessing in disguise.”

Heckman passed her Army exams but didn’t qualify for an Army ROTC scholarship.

Then, at the 2013 Penns Valley senior awards, she was awarded the Elks Club student of the year and, ironically, ran into that same Marine recruiter.

“He gave me all kinds of crap, but said since I didn’t get the first scholarship, I should try for the Marine scholarship,” Heckman said. “I still wasn’t sure at that point because I knew it was even harder to get.”

She went for it anyway.

Having gone weeks without hearing anything, Heckman decided to stick with the Army ROTC program at Penn State despite not having a scholarship. She completed her first semester in the program last fall.

However, three days before spring semester started in January, she got the call telling her she had passed all Marine written and physical exams, and she was granted the scholarship through that branch.

“That changed everything,” she said. “And left me changing all my classes with just a few days before the start of the semester.”

Now, she’s part of the joint Navy and Marine, Naval ROTC program. Upon completion, Heckman will be a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps.

“The community was really behind me with this, especially since everything was so up and down,” she said. “I owe everything to Penns Valley because it got me into extracurricular (activities) and athletics and prepared me for what was next.”

Heckman was a three-sport athlete, earning 11 varsity letters in basketball, soccer and track. She also was on the student council, served as a class officer and is a memeber of a national honor society.

“I know this route isn’t for everyone, but I think it has the potential to build you and a neat opportunity for kids to look into,” Heckman said.

Britney Milazzo writes about news from the Penns and Brush Valley regions. She can be reached at 231-4648 or bmilazzo@centredaily.com. Follow her on Twitter @ M11azzo.

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