Not only will Sean Gundry and Kristine Pitzer soon graduate from The Chantilly Academy's Air Force Junior ROTC program, but they've each won full, four-year, ROTC scholarships to college.
Both are seniors at Fairfax High. Gundry, 17, of Fairfax City, will attend the University of South Carolina and, at about $17,000/year, his scholarship is worth some $68,000. He'll also receive $450/year for books and a $150/month stipend.
Pitzer, 18, of Hampton Chase, will attend the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) and, at about $13,000/year, her scholarship is worth some $52,000. And she'll receive the same allowance for books and monthly expenses.
After they applied for the scholarships, one of their JROTC instructors, Maj. Sheila Allen, recommended them to the selection board as good scholarship candidates. "And that gave us an extra shot at the scholarship," said Gundry. And when they found out, March 17, that they'd won, he said, "I was excited, elated and very relieved."
"I'm still shocked," said Pitzer. "I don't quite believe it, yet, but it's amazing. The fact that my four years are paid for and my parents don't have to [do it] is wonderful and uplifting."
Gundry says he's always wanted to be in the Air Force and was excited that he'd be able to be part of an Air Force unit in school. "My ultimate goal is sports broadcasting [for TV]," he said. "I'm also interested in public affairs, and I thought the Air Force was a good way to get into that career and serve my country, too."
PITZER IS keenly interested in space and science and, she said, "I knew, my whole life, I wanted to be in the military. I owe a great deal of gratitude to my country — as a woman and as an American — and I want to pay back America for all the freedoms with which I've been endowed."
She hopes to make the military a career and become a civil engineer — "with aspirations of being a combat engineer." Her parents are Peggy and Dennis Pitzer, and she has two sisters, Stephanie, 20, and Meghan, 24.
Gundry is the only child of parents David and Jo Ann, and he said he loved being in JROTC at The Chantilly Academy. "I looked forward to the class, every day," he said. "It's an opportunity to lead and run things; and when the whole unit counts on you, it's really worth it."
He said the most valuable thing he learned as the unit's past commander was how to mix leadership with teamwork while still leading effectively. And he'd recommend the program to others "150 percent."
"We have people in our class from every walk of life and, whether they plan a military career or not, everybody gets something out of it," explained Gundry. "It teaches you leadership and teamwork, plus life skills like making resumes and doing financial planning. It's useful for military or civilians."
Pitzer said the class taught her teamwork, flexibility and discipline. "You learn not only to lead yourself, but to follow," she said. "I'm very strong-willed, so listening to others is an ongoing process for me. You also learn how to accept things — how to change them for the better and, if you can't, you learn to mold them into your life and work with other people's ideas."
THE CLASS also taught her things such as being on time and having her uniform in top-top shape. "You lead your peers and yourself," said Pitzer. "You learn social skills and study skills. It's a class everybody should take because it prepares you for the future, no matter what career path you choose."
Both she and Gundry are involved in their unit's military color guard and drill team. As for other activities, he plays club soccer for the Fairfax Police Youth Club, referees youth soccer and does the public-address announcing for most sports at Fairfax High. In addition, he's involved in a youth group at his church, Fairfax United Methodist, and has played handbells there since the first grade.
Pitzer is an athlete, swimming the butterfly and participating in outdoor track and field. "Last year, I was the only female discus thrower at my school," she said. "And this year, I'll be doing pole vaulting, as well." She also bikes and Rollerblades as much as she can. And she's the chief Squire Rose — a church organization affiliated with the Knights of Columbus, which does service and fund-raising activities for her church, St Mary of Sorrows.
Both students got to pick their colleges. Gundry chose USC because "I'm a Southern boy. I love the South, and they have a good journalism program there." Pitzer selected VMI because she's always wanted to go to a military academy.
"I checked out the campus in the fall and fell in love with it," she said. "It's a small school, and I'll get lots of personal attention."
JROTC instructor Allen is thrilled for both of them. "They did the work that went into the scholarships," she explained. "Air Force ROTC scholarships are more about the whole person, rather than just focusing on academics. The cadets are involved in their community and school. I'm really proud of them. Each year, I get to nominate five cadets, and to have two of them selected is awesome."