A Change of Heart and a Change of Rank

Bethel Senior Becomes Air Force Nurse

“To the mess!”

The cheer resounded through the room as women in prom dresses and men in suits lifted their glasses into the air. The scene almost resembled a high school prom, except for the young men and women in dark blue uniforms.

Leanne Pratt was one of several college students wearing the distinct dress blues that marked her as an Air Force ROTC (Reserved Officer Training Corps) cadet. It was the last time Pratt would attend ROTC Detachment 410’s Dining Out Banquet.

Despite the pride in the Air Force Pratt showed as she sang the National Anthem at the banquet, the military did not always interest her.

“I actually would say that I resented the military,” Pratt admitted with a small smile.

Pratt’s father served in the Air Force, and she explained that she enjoyed it while he was deployed, but settling down afterward was a struggle.

“We moved to South Dakota and were in this environment of kids who had always lived in South Dakota and always wanted to stay in South Dakota,” Pratt explained. “I was an outsider. I really didn’t like that and I resented that my dad had been in the military.”

Her dislike for the military deepened when her older sister enrolled in the St. Thomas ROTC program.

“I remember sitting in church one day, and I remember thinking my sister was going to get deployed and was going to die, and that was going to be the end of that,” Pratt reminisced.

Pratt experienced a change of heart when she studied abroad in Germany for a year after high school. While there, she realized how much she appreciated where she came from.

“While I was there I just really started to feel pride for my country,” Pratt explained.

Pratt claimed that if she had not studied abroad, she might never have changed her perspective about the military. Her perspective changed so much that she enrolled in the same ROTC program as her sister.

Since then, her ROTC experience has been rewarding. The program emphasizes teamwork and the importance of relationships. Pratt explained that she especially enjoys the camaraderie she has with her fellow cadets.

Despite the rewards that come from being an ROTC cadet, Pratt admitted that it has its challenges.

“Leadership always comes with frustrations,” Pratt explained. “People are always doing stupid things. Or decisions are made by the people above you that you don’t really agree with.”

Pratt explained though that despite the frustrations that can come from being a leader, she feels qualified to be an officer in the Air Force. She was in leadership positions in high school, and she described herself as a determined worker and a team player. Her fellow cadets and officers seemed to agree.

“Leanne is a very hard, dedicated worker who is always willing to lend a helping hand,” said Annamarie Schumacher, a fellow ROTC cadet. “I could always go to her to bounce ideas off of her, get advice, or just chat about wing operations.”

Pratt’s major and decision to be an ROTC cadet demonstrate just how hardworking she is. Pratt is a nursing major at Bethel University and is part of St. Thomas’ Air Force ROTC program, making her a cross town cadet. Pratt acknowledged what a time commitment both her major and the ROTC are.

It’s definitely been stressful at times, but ROTC is very supportive, because if you don’t have a degree, you don’t commission,” Pratt explained.

Pratt’s superior, 1st Lt. Andrea Gehrman, expressed her admiration for the time that Pratt puts aside for academics and ROTC.

“Cadet Pratt has been able to handle the workload of being an ROTC cadet and a cross town student without any issues. And on top of that, she is studying to be a nurse which is a challenging degree with a busy, busy schedule,” Gehrman said.

Pratt’s academic and ROTC efforts will pay off when she starts her first placement at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage, Alaska where she will be practicing obstetrical nursing.

As a senior, this was Pratt’s final ROTC banquet. While there, Pratt exchanged hugs with fellow cadets. She and two other senior cadets were laughing even as they wiped tears from their eyes. Pratt admitted she never thought she would be comfortable showing that kind of vulnerability while she was in uniform.

“Freshman year I had this idea that I have this standard or image to uphold,” Pratt explained. “I thought it made it not okay to hug people. To a certain extent I felt like I couldn’t show emotion in uniform. But over the years I’ve learned that, yes, we’re officers, but we’re people too.”

Friends and officers who know Pratt now would never say that she is reserved.

“One of the most lovable characteristics about Leanne is her snort when she laughs,” Schumacher said. “That’s how you know she really thinks something is funny, and it just adds to the hilarious situation, making us all laugh more.”

Gehrman explained that Pratt exhibits the qualities of an Air Force officer through her friendly personality.

“She fully embodies the Air Force core values which are ‘Integrity First, Service Before Self, and Excellence in All We Do,’” Gerhman said. “She has taken these core values to heart and lives them every day. She is a leader by the example she sets and always has a smile on her face.”

On Saturday, May 23 at 8:00 a.m., Pratt will commission and receive the rank of lieutenant colonel, making her an Air Force officer. But she will have to decide what kind of officer she wants to be.

“As you go through ROTC, you see that there all types of officers, and that you have to take your leadership and make it yours,” Pratt explained. “You can’t just be a carbon copy of another leader. You have to be you.”

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