Melanie Vasina, MS3
Melanie Vasina hadn’t planned to follow in her family’s footsteps and join the military. Fast forward three years and a lot has changed.
She’s currently a third year (MS3) Cadet of the Army ROTC program at CSU. In her spare time, she works towards getting a pilot’s license to help her reach her goal of a career in military aviation.
A day in the life of a cadet
Physical conditioning, leadership training, and hands-on practice are foundations of life in Army ROTC.
Cadets attend physical training three times per week early in the morning so as not to interfere with classes. Leadership classes are held once or twice a week, depending on year. “In the first and second year, it’s really about developing your own leadership,” Melanie explained. “In your third and fourth year, it develops more into how you can apply your leadership to others.”
A two hour weekly lab is an important component for all cadets, along with bi-annual Field Training Exercises (FTX). Additionally, a summer Advanced Camp is required for all MS3s. Labs and other trainings are crucial to develop into a valuable team member and a strong leader.
“[During field training] we sleep in the field and run all the missions we’ve learned in lab. We really try to develop our leadership skills and it’s a great time to learn how you act under pressure,” Melanie said.
Some cadets also take part in optional activities like the Bronze Boot Run, Canon Crew and Color Guard. There is opportunity to apply for selective summer trainings like Airborne School and Air Assault School. A variety of internships and shadowing opportunities are also available.
Above all, Melanie sees leadership development as the most impactful skill she’s honed in the program.
“My leadership abilities have been thoroughly enhanced through ROTC. I was pretty shy my senior year of high school. Not a leader; not a stand out person. Now I can absolutely see myself leading a platoon of soldiers,” she said.
And she’s learned how to succeed under stress and pressure. Something that will no doubt benefit her both in and out of the military.
“While you’re learning tactics, you learn how you act under pressure and in different situations. How to adapt if something goes wrong. You can always apply those outside of ROTC,” she explained.
“It helps you find yourself as far as leadership goes, as far as your strengths and weaknesses. You learn a lot about yourself.”
Melanie’s also met her closest friends in the ROTC and calls the program her home away from home.
She currently rooms with two fellow Cadets — one Army, one Air Force. “The friendships are one of my favorite parts of the program — they’re like my brothers and sisters. I could trust them all with my life,” she said.
Another aspect Melanie enjoys about ROTC are the career opportunities. The Army and Cadet Command ultimately make the decision of where graduates are placed, but cadets do list their preferred component, such as Active Duty or Reserve, and preferred branches, like aviation or infantry.
Melanie is hoping to be placed in the National Guard, specifically in the branch of aviation. She’s already working hard to get a leg up on the competition. “I’m getting a pilot’s license and taking steps now that can set you apart in aviation. But it’s still one of the most highly competitive branches,” she explained.
Not without challenge
Rigor is something the CSU ROTC program takes seriously. And because of that, responsible use of time is a skill you must learn quickly as a cadet.
Although Melanie agrees that juggling Army ROTC and school has been challenging at some points, she’s learned to manage well. “While ROTC is a big commitment, it’s not impossible to do with school. Really it’s just about time management,” she explained.
She pointed out that a rigorous program like the one here at CSU isn’t for everyone — it requires grit and perseverance. “It’s not an easy program necessarily. It takes time to study, to keep up with your leadership. It will break you down to build you up. You learn a lot about yourself,” she explained.
Melanie’s advice is simple. If you think the Army ROTC might be for you, check it out. There’s no obligation.
Reach out to the Cadre, request to speak with current cadets, or take part in Zero Week, a no-obligation annual orientation for incoming freshman. “I highly recommend coming to Zero Week if you can,” she said. “It takes place the week before fall classes and you learn a bit of the ROTC life. It’s more of a fun time, you can meet your peers and make friends, and find out if it’s for you.”
Overall, she looks back and knows that ROTC was not the future she had planned, but it was without a doubt the right one.
“It’s an amazing opportunity,” she explains. “It’s one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life. It’s not an easy program — we take our training seriously. While it is difficult, it is definitely worth it.”