All the top U.S. Army commanding officers had to start somewhere.
Many start as second lieutenants — the ground floor for the Army commissioned officer. Recognized by the gold bar that identifies their rank, 10 newly minted second lieutenants walked Friday from Penn State’s Schwab Auditorium with their heads held high.
As students in the university’s Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, receiving their commission as officers in the U.S. Army is the second to last step in their educational journey — graduation is the last. It’s a particularly special moment for the new officers, their families and their military educators.
Each graduating cadet was “pinned” by family members, who apply a patch featuring the gold bars to the cadet’s shoulders. The lieutenant then receives his first salute by an enlisted member of the military, presenting the member with a coin that acknowledges the officer’s new rank and position.
Evan Simpson, 22, of Greensburg, majored in nuclear engineering and will begin his time as a lieutenant in the West Virginia National Guard. He said his father and grandfather got him interested in military history, inspiring his decision to go into the Army.
“You think about (being commissioned) happening, and you’ve been looking forward to it,” Simpson said after the ceremony. “When it actually happened, when they pinned me, I couldn’t help but smile.”
Simpson said he always figured he wanted to be an Army officer, and the path the Army offered allowed him to both become an officer and follow nuclear engineering at the same time. And it included a lot of work — Simpson said he put in about 11 semesters of work between normal and summer classes.
Friday’s class represented several engineering majors who typically put in four-and-a-half years of study, said Sgt. Maj. Carolanne Wright, ROTC chief military science instructor.
“Cadets spend the last two years truly focusing on developing skills to become Army officers,” she said.
The ceremony represented the transition from cadets to officers, she said, and is the pivotal event that helps them move from Penn State and the ROTC program to Army life. On Saturday, they will be formally graduating, then moving on to their basic officer leadership course and the branch-specific course involved.
“We are very fortunate to have very strong students who also opt to be ROTC cadets,” Wright said.
The U.S. Army ROTC December 2016 graduating class included: Ryan Briglia, Zachary Buchheit, Jack Kerwin, Sean Quinn, Matthew Wolfel, Nathan Vitacco, Walker Glunz, Zachary Criswell, Evan Simpson and Nicholas Konicoff.