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Wednesday, Feb 8, 2023

Hunter Graham '20 nominated for prestigious ROTC award

Hunter Graham ’20 was nominated for the Pallas Athene Award from the Women’s Army Corps Veterans’ Association, an award given to the top two graduating female Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) cadets in the nation. The UVM ROTC program, which hosts Middlebury’s ROTC cadets, held its annual award ceremony online in April, where Graham and other cadets were celebrated.

Hunter Graham '20 was one of two cadets on ROTC her first year at Middlebury. Now, there are five other cadets in the program.

“I am both shocked and honored to receive it,” Graham said about her nomination in an email to The Campus. 

Middlebury and other schools, including Castleton University and Saint Michael’s College, have satellite ROTC programs that send cadets to train with the Green Mountain Battalion at UVM. Graham joined ROTC near the end of her first year at Middlebury and has since driven an hour north with other cadets from the college every Wednesday afternoon.

“The weekly drive to Burlington is burdensome when you come home to a full night of homework at 9 p.m.,” Graham said about her experience in ROTC. “Knowing that my friends at Castleton are right there with me — and still have to drive another hour south after we get home — kept me pushing.”

She said that ROTC had made her mentally tough, and expressed gratitude for the instructors at UVM, as well as the career opportunities and the community the program provided. 

“[Graham] has been a huge role model to me, and is someone who I think has been really critical in shaping the culture of our program here at Middlebury into one that’s looking forward to making the Army a better place,” said Alec Wilson ’21, who has been in ROTC with Graham for several years.

The evacuation of college campuses due to Covid-19 has disrupted the graduation traditions for Graham and other cadets. The Commissioning Ceremony — where seniors celebrate their commission as officers, receive their first salute and take their oaths — will be held online on May 16.

Graham said her family originally planned to drive from Ohio to Vermont for the ceremony. Traditionally, family members would place the hat on a new officer’s head and uncover their shoulder boards, which are colored to represent the branch of the Army that they are joining. Graham had been looking forward to sharing her work with friends from Middlebury, and said the graduating ROTC seniors are disappointed that they can not celebrate together.

“There is a silver lining,” Graham said. “My 90-year-old next-door neighbor, Woody, will now be my first salute, as he was unable to make the drive to Vermont originally.” 

After graduation, Graham will be attending the Army Medical Department's Basic Officers Leadership Course at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. 

ROTC continues training remotely

As remote learning upends traditional classroom experiences across the country, the college’s six ROTC cadets have adjusted to training to the unconventional circumstances. Using Microsoft Teams, a communication platform similar to Zoom, students have continued attending military science lectures. In addition, they have also been updating a “Covid tracker” to communicate their circumstances with instructors.

Hunter Graham ’20 and Alec Wilson ’21.

Middlebury’s ROTC cadets would normally work out three times a week as a group, and were also encouraged to pursue additional physical training on their own. Wilson said that with online instruction, training has been more individual. The cadets are trying to stay motivated through workout challenges and team support, but Wilson says that training and maintaining grades amid the uncertainty of the pandemic has been difficult.

“This is really just going to be a test of individual discipline, because when we get back to campus in the fall — hopefully — we’re going to have an assessment on our physical fitness very quickly,” Wilson said.

Wilson has been planning mock missions and working on tactics in his online classes to prepare for Advanced Camp this summer. Each year, rising seniors from ROTC programs across the country — approximately 7,000 cadets in 2020 — travel to Fort Knox, Kentucky for a month-long training camp where they are assessed on their skills, especially as leaders. 

Cadet rankings based on GPA, extracurriculars and performance at Advanced Camp help determine cadets' placement after graduation. The Army has not yet announced changes to this summer’s Advanced Camp but have cancelled other summer training programs at Fort Knox, Ky.

The group has continued to meet socially online and has stayed in contact through their training. Wilson says he is proud of the underclassmen ROTC members’ professionalism, discipline, and spirit despite their current circumstances.

“Every time we meet up together, even if it’s just to hang out, they’re smiling, they’re happy, they’re making the best of a sticky situation,” Wilson said. “I have such a sense of admiration for them.”

Correction May 8, 2020: The article was updated to reflect the fact that Graham was nominated for the Pallas Athene Award. The winner of that award will be announced until later this year.

Tony Sjodin

Tony Sjodin ’23 is a managing editor. 

He previously served as community council correspondent, senior writer, news editor and senior news editor.  

Sjodin is majoring in political science with a focus on international and comparative politics. He previously held internships with the Appalachian Mountain Club's Outdoor Magazine, political campaigns in Massachusetts and Vermont, and the U.S. Embassy in Costa Rica's Environmental Hub. Outside of class, he leads kayaking and hiking trips with the Middlebury Mountain Club.