If Chantilly Academy students Jack Walberg and Becky Reinhard have big smiles on their faces, it's for two reasons: They're graduating seniors, and both were just awarded Air Force ROTC scholarships.
They've been in the Academy's Air Force Jr. ROTC program for two years. Jack, 18, of Franklin Farm, attends Oakton High, and Reinhard, 17, of Fairfax, attends Robinson Secondary.
Jack received $75,000 to attend the University of Illinois, where he'll major in aerospace engineering. Becky received $60,000 and will attend UNC Charlotte and major in mechanical engineering. Both will also receive monthly stipends for expenses.
"I am so delighted for both of them," said Maj. Sheila Allen, who instructs the Academy's JROTC program with Sgt. John Wilks. "They are two of the most outstanding students, academically and personally, that I've had the opportunity to work with so far. And I'm just thrilled that they've been selected for Air Force ROTC scholarships and are pursuing their dreams of becoming Air Force officers."
"Jack was commander and Becky is now the vice commander [of Chantilly's JROTC unit]," added Wilks. "They're outstanding cadets — reliable, dedicated, a joy to work with and very motivated. We've watched them blossom to become future leaders of our society."
Jack's dad is a colonel on active duty in the Air Force so, he said, "I knew I was going to be in the Air Force since I was 3. And it's a good way to get a scholarship for college." Jack hopes to fly, if his eyes permit (he wears contacts).
He's also interested in special operations, such as combat control. "I'd jump out of the back of an airplane and put laser sightings on the targets so that, when the planes come down, they'll hit the targets," said Jack. "It would be cool and adrenaline-filled. You'd be there for months beforehand, behind enemy lines, so you'd have to have a secret identity and learn the language and customs."
Becky said taking JROTC in high school was part of her "detailed plan" to get to NASA and become a space-shuttle pilot. "I'm going to do Air Force ROTC in college and take a pilot slot in the Air Force — because NASA takes twice as many pilots as they do any other jobs," she said.
Becky's father is a retired lieutenant colonel, formerly an Air Force fighter pilot. One of three girls, she's the only one interested in the military. "My dad's excited and my parents are supportive," Becky said. "It's nice to know that, coming out of college, I'll have a job. And military training looks good on your resume because people know you have that discipline and responsibility."
On Jack's first day in the Academy's JROTC program, he encountered "a bunch of ragtag kids" and wondered if he'd like the class. But realizing that only 80 students out of all of Fairfax County get into the program, he decided to give it a shot.
"I got more involved in it and was the flight commander, in charge of people in my period," he said. "The second semester of last year, I was the finance officer in charge of all the money in the unit. We were saving to go to the National JROTC Drill Competition in Daytona Beach."
THIS PAST semester, Jack was squadron commander, making sure the others did their jobs. "It was awesome because, in the second year, you've got people who actually want to be in the program," he said. "I wanted to increase the amount of community service ROTC did. So we went from three events a semester to 14, such as visiting veterans and nursing homes."
On Veterans' Day, the students wore their service uniforms and did a formation with a color guard. They all performed, and Jack made a speech and played "Taps" on the trumpet. Another time, said Becky, "The cadets went to a rec center and helped handicapped kids swim."
Jack said the Academy's JROTC program taught him time management, discipline and how to motivate people "to do things they might not have done before, or liked, and get them to focus on and like these things. That was probably the coolest thing for me — and seeing that they actually cared was kind of nice."
As vice commander this last semester, Becky did what the commander — another student — told her to do. For instance, she said, "I'd check up on people's progress on projects, and we had to put in recommendations for the [student] staff for next year."
Becky admitted that the job taught her lots of patience. "Especially at the end of the year, mostly the seniors are starting to get ready for college and they want to kick back," she said. "So getting them to stay focused was definitely a challenge."
Becky said being in JROTC also made her appreciate the opportunities available to her just by taking a class — "having more scholarship and leadership [chances] and being able to take and give orders."
Recommending Chantilly Academy's JROTC program, Jack said, "It makes people care about something. And it makes you a mature teen-ager — you just step up. You're responsible for yourself and for others and, if you don't do what you're supposed to, they might not get what they need."
Becky didn't know what to expect, her first day of class. So, she said, it was a learning curve finding out about the politics of the military and what it takes to be an officer. "It got me wanting to do ROTC in college," she said. "I would most definitely recommend it to others."
Becky added that the three core values of the Air Force are: "Integrity first, service before self and excellence in all we do. And if you think about it, that's all you need for your life. If you apply all three, there's no way you can go wrong."