By: Steve Arel
No mold exists for producing Army leaders. Every Cadet is different, requiring different instructional approaches, different mentorship and different motivational techniques.
The trio of Cadets who commissioned Saturday on the Alamodome field prior to kickoff of the annual U.S. Army All-American Bowl illustrates the varied paths prospective second lieutenants take.
One is a record-setting collegiate kicker. Another was so determined to be an officer that he shed nearly 100 pounds. And the other has had a life-long desire to serve.
“Veterans and active duty Soldiers know what this means,” said Rockne Belmonte of Northern Michigan University. “It gives a chance for others to see a different side of the Army.”
Belmonte, along with James Wingard of the University of Texas-San Antonio and Ashley Rodriguez of St. Mary’s University, took the oath of office from Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Talley, chief of the Army Reserve, in front of several thousand onlookers. The event was ceremonial for Wingard and Rodriguez, who actually commissioned in December at their respective universities.
Belmonte, who holds his school’s record for career field goals and was first team all-conference this season, missed his battalion’s commissioning because he was competing in an all-star game for seniors.
Saturday’s ceremony was a chance for the public — some of them current Soldiers, some of them military veterans, some of them potential future service members — to witness the culmination of the Cadet-development process, one that evolves over the course of years.
All three of the newest Soldiers said their experience in the ROTC reshaped their lives and set them on a path toward success.
For Belmonte, the commissioning was a fitting and unique experience, bringing together two loves — football and the Army. And both will remain major parts of his life, at least for the short-term.
Belmonte has achieved such success on the football field that he’s being given a shot at playing professionally. Though he branched transportation and is now a commissioned officer, his service status remains uncertain.
Belmonte leaves San Antonio next week for Arizona where he will train with Cardinals kicker Jay Feely to prepare to participate in the upcoming NFL combine. If he is drafted or signed, Belmonte will become a Reserve officer.
If he isn’t, he says he’ll eagerly serve on active duty.
Saturday’s ceremony tops his list of memorable moments in ROTC.
“This is what you work toward” as a Cadet, said Belmonte, whose rank was pinned on by his parents. “Being able to do it at such a special event like this is pretty important to me.”
Rodriguez sat in the stands at last year’s All-American Bowl and watched a friend commission on the field. A little nervous, she was glad to now be in the same position as her former classmate.
Rodriguez said she has always wanted to serve in the military, and ROTC gave her an opportunity to do so. The reason for wanting to be a Soldier is simple.
“I love my country,” Rodriguez said.
Being in ROTC, she said, allowed her to be surrounded by people who share her values, values that were instilled in her as a child and that mirror those making up the foundation of the Army.
Fellow Cadets “take them to heart as much I do,” Rodriguez said.
Three years ago, Wingard was working at a San Antonio FedEx facility and attending a community college when one day he saw a sign touting ROTC hanging on a wall at the school. It piqued his interest.
But Wingard faced a huge hurdle: himself.
The then-sophomore, who stands 5 feet, 11 inches tall, weighed in at 275 pounds. He was so overweight and out of shape, he wasn’t close to meeting the Army’s height-weight standards and failed all three events of the PT test his first try. In fact, he couldn’t post a passing score his first dozen or so attempts.
Wingard, though, was running out of time to become part of the ROTC program. He needed to attend the Leader’s Training Course, or LTC, to laterally enter the program as a junior, but only had six months to trim down and become fit.
Through dieting and working out, he was able to shed 90 pounds and passed a diagnostic PT test just before attending the course.
Having graduated LTC, the UTSA training regimen has further strengthened her performance, physically and mentally.
“There were times I wanted to give up, but I knew (being an officer) is what I wanted to do,” Wingard said.
Being a Cadet transformed Wingard into a more focused individual, he said. His fitness improved (he has scored as high as a 295 on the PT test), his grades improved and his ability to lead others improved.
“Just the honor of actually getting to commission is huge,” Wingard said. “For me, the things I’ve accomplished are amazing. This puts the icing on the cake.”