All U.S. Army ROTC cadets studying at colleges and universities across the country, regardless of the size of their institution, are ranked among their class based on criteria such as grade-point average, physical training scores and serving in leadership positions.
Slippery Rock University had two cadets ranked in the top 10 percent and an additional two cadets ranked in the top 20 percent this year out of more than 5,000 senior cadets nationwide, earning them National Distinguished Military Graduate recognition.
Austin Mora, a senior criminology and criminal justice major from Douglassville, is assigned to Signal Corps, National Guard 876th Brigade Engineer Battalion in Washington.
Nicholas Appleby, a senior homeland security major from Eldred, and Tyson Miller, a senior safety management major from Tyrone, ranked in the top 10 percent. Emily Dooley, a senior homeland security major from Walden, N.Y.; and Kathleen Seasock, a senior health science-public health major from Burgettstown, ranked in the top 20 percent.
“That’s indicative of the type of program we have at SRU,” said Capt. Joseph Barrow, assistant professor of military science, who is part of the Army ROTC cadre at SRU. “This shows that our cadets are competing at a high level and we’re producing high quality officers. We have some commanders in the Army who, as soon as they see that a cadet is from SRU, they don’t even need to interview (our graduates); they know that coming from our program that they are going to perform at a very high level and they are accepted for positions throughout the Army. That’s the reputation we have.”
The rankings, known as the Army Order of Merit List, determine preference given to cadets for their branch duty assignments following graduation and commissioning. Last month, 14 cadets from SRU received their branch assignments, many of which were their top two or three choices.
“We’re super proud of what we did and it’s nice to be rewarded for doing the right thing,” said Miller, who was assigned active duty in the coveted Infantry branch. “But it’s more of a relief because now we can concentrate on what we’ve been preparing ourselves to do, instead of putting in work so that we can get the opportunity to do what we want to do.”
Appleby and Miller are often their battalion’s top two finishers, whether it’s sprinting to the finish of a training ruck march or Miller returning to a German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge competition at Indiana University of Pennsylvania to redeem a silver-medal finish; Appleby won gold at the event, which measured competency in physical fitness and various soldier skills. During field training exercises, Appleby and Miller’s one-upsmanship would result in both of them conducting drills while wearing their ruck sacks even when the extra gear wasn’t required.
“We all love each other, but the competition between us is going on between everyone around us; it’s throughout the battalion,” Miller said. “It makes you want to strive for more and work harder. It’s not a threatening environment; it’s just competitive … and it’s just so fun.”
The competitiveness and the OML points are not the only thing motivating the cadets to push themselves.
“It’s uncommon to have so many DMGs coming from our battalion and to have so many of us getting our top three (branch assignment preferences),” Appleby said. “That’s a testament to the cadre and leadership that we’ve had throughout our college careers.”
The seniors had three battalion commanders during their four years, Lt. Cols. John Donlin, Jeffrey Barta and Joseph Richey. Appleby and Miller also credit other former and current cadre members, including: Sgt. Jason Vandegrift, former instructor of military science; Brett Rogowitz, advisement, enrollment and scholarship officer; Capt. Adam Readout, assistant professor of military science; Master Sgt. Taylor Donohoe, senior military science instructor; Melvin Carr, assistant professor of military science; Daniel Renaud, supply/logistic technician; Christopher Wolf, human resources assistant; and Staff Sgt. Ryan Graeves, Army National Guard liaison.
Both Appleby and Miller credit Rogowitz for recruiting them to enroll at SRU. Appleby, whose father, Steven, served 27 years in the Army, transferred to SRU from Mansfield University, while Miller turned down an offer to go to Penn State to attend SRU.
“It’s awesome here,” Miller said. “You’re not a number. It’s close-knit. You have a relationship with your mentors here. If someone is leading me I want to know them personally. Here, you can do that. That’s been a key in my development, being able to have those relationships.”
Appleby and Miller were both assigned to active duty, Infantry, and next summer they will report to Infantry School in Fort Benning, Georgia, for five months with the goal of attending Ranger School and a Special Forces assignment.
Of the 14 senior cadets at SRU, 10 were assigned to active duty and three to the National Guard following their May 2019 graduation and commissioning as officers with the rank of second lieutenant.
“It’s a challenging program and those who make it through have really put in the work,” Barrow said. “There are not many jobs where you are going to graduate from college at 22 years old and be immediately thrust into a middle management position and be in charge of people who have already been doing their job for years. It’s crazy when you think about it.”