Saint Mary’s senior honored with ROTC award
Kathryn Marshall | Friday, May 13, 2016
Caroline Rech, a senior nursing major and ROTC Air Force cadet, is the first from Saint Mary’s to be named top of her Air Force class, which includes cadets from both Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s.
In addition to being first in her class of nine cadets, Rech received the Commander’s Leadership Award and was one of four cadets to be honored with a sabre this year, she said.
“To know there is this huge legacy of outstanding Saint Mary’s women who have been a part of ROTC, and to know that I’m among the top of them, is a huge honor,” Rech said.
The Commander’s Leadership Award is given annually to the top cadet of the ROTC Air Force detachment at Notre Dame who demonstrates dependability, character, military discipline, leadership and high personal standards, Rech said.
Rech said she found out about the award after following up on a missed call from her commander after class.
“He’s a colonel in the army and colonels don’t usually call you — they have people working for them who do that,” Rech said. “I was so nervous. I thought ‘What did I do? This cannot be good,’ and I called him back, and he told me I got the award.”
“It was definitely a surprise,” Rech said. “I know I’ve done well. In ROTC, you’re constantly being ranked and rated, and they tell you kind of where you are, and my class is very impressive. It’s pretty competitive — they’re all pretty great and it’s just a huge honor.”
Within her class of nine senior cadets, eight received academic honors and outstanding physical fitness standards, Rech said. She said the commander of the Northeast region was impressed with the class, saying if the nine were each at different schools, they would all finish as top cadets.
Eight of the nine have been together since freshman year and are part of a class that began with more than 20 members, she said.
Rech said she doesn’t have any immediate family involved in the military, and wasn’t aware of ROTC until high school, when she decided she wanted to join the armed forces after college. During the college decision process, Rech’s mom helped her get in touch with detachments of the different colleges she was considering.
At the same time, Rech said she also knew she wanted to pursue nursing.
“I had this deep passion for service,” Rech said. “I knew that was something I wanted to be a part of my life in whatever I did and I felt nursing was a way to fulfill that in caring for people when they’re in their most vulnerable times.”
During her time with ROTC, Rech spent 11 weeks in 2013 studying Russian in San Diego with other cadets and midshipmen from around the country, she said. The following summer, she had the opportunity to travel to Estonia with friends in the program.
However, Rech said, ROTC hasn’t been easy.
“It’s tough, it’s competitive and it’s a different environment,” Rech said. “I’m over [at Notre Dame] on Tuesdays. There could be a circus that happens at Saint Mary’s on Tuesdays and I [would] have no idea because I’m over there. I feel I have missed some things here on campus. … It’s been a challenge and part of it is that it has been so new.”
Rech said an ROTC scholarship she received enabled her to attend Saint Mary’s.
“I never, ever would have thought when I accepted the scholarship and started ROTC that I would be where I am now,” Rech said. “I’ve had some amazing opportunities through ROTC that make me even more excited to see what active duty will bring. I’ve developed responsibility and leadership and discipline, and in addition to that I have guidance from great officers who teach us and help us grow in our leadership.”
In August, Rech will begin active duty at a civilian hospital in Tampa, Florida, where she will spend several months doing nursing clinicals. She will then go to Travis Air Force Base in California to start medical-surgical nursing.