By Ashley Vitale
Simmons junior Jessica Johnson already knows what she will do after college—she will be commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the U. S. Army.
Johnson, a political science major who was raised in the small blue-collar town of Waterford, Connecticut, said her family’s military history and her own patriotism made her choice to join the Army Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) a natural one.
“Some people get intimidated by the uniform, but for me, it’s a civic obligation,” Johnson said, with a look of determination in her eyes. “We are public servants.”
While Johnson has embraced her life as a cadet, she knows and understands that some of her fellow students cannot comprehend her commitment to the armed forces.
“Others have negatively labeled me as an out-of-touch Republican or racist when I wear my uniform in class,” she said. “One day while I was driving, someone pulled me over because of the Army sticker on my car, and said, ‘Get out of my country.’”
To Johnson, those experiences have only reinforced her notion that becoming part of the military “really is a selfless service.” She feels that ROTC has made her grow up much faster than she would have otherwise, and that maturity allows her to communicate effectively with those who may not understand.
“My mother and grandmother are not too happy about me going into field artillery,” Johnson said with an uneasy laugh, as she told me how dangerous that choice is when you enlist for active combat. “But they are still proud of what I have accomplished.”
Many in the Boston community are equally proud of what Johnson and her fellow cadets have accomplished in the past few years.
“Our students are exceptional,” said John Kelly, the Liberty Battalion’s recruitment operations officer. “They take difficult classes and this commitment is not easy,” Kelly explained. “Our organization is solely driven by its people.”
Kelly, who formerly served as a paratrooper and has been in the Army for eight years, has a passion for building a successful team of stellar students from Simmons, Northeastern, and several other Boston area colleges and universities.
“I sit at every fair I can get to and encourage anyone who is interested to give ROTC a shot. This is the future of an organization I love more than I could begin to describe.”
Professor Charlotte Russell, the Simmons ROTC faculty liaison, also noted the “sheer stubbornness” the cadets show in their academic and ROTC commitments.
“These students exemplify everything we want our students to be, and I have been working especially with upper-echelon faculty to make them more aware of the academic rigor of the program,” Russell said. “Right now, we are taking baby steps to make ROTC more visible on this campus.”
When Professor Russell is not speaking with faculty or helping the cadets with their hectic schedules, she is working with Mr. Kelly to make sure they are well-supported. “They may not know this,” she smiled, “but I keep close track of how they are doing. The two of us are making sure they keep a healthy academic and military balance.”
With a schedule as full as theirs, that balance is certainly difficult to strike. Johnson and her fellow cadets are awake by 5 a.m., five mornings a week, to make it to their first formation of physical training with the Liberty Battalion at Northeastern. They train from 6 a.m.-7:30 a.m., and then attend their Simmons classes (of which they take a full course load).
On Tuesdays, Johnson attends a military science class at Northeastern from 8:30-9:45 a.m., and then participates in a military lab from 3:30-5:30 p.m.
When she is not training or studying, she also works three days a week at Lilly’s Gourmet Pasta Express, a small Italian restaurant on Tremont Street. “ROTC makes the time go by faster,” she said. “If I don’t plan out every minute of my life, nothing will get done.”
Despite the stress, Johnson exudes such enthusiasm for the military that talking to her makes it difficult not to feel equally enthusiastic.
“I love the Army,” she said, “because it has taught me communication skills, discipline, and leadership. I know I will be a successful leader not just in the Army, but as a person. Now, my goal is to motivate others to do the same.”