The Members of the Hilltopper Battalion Army ROTC unit develop a special bond during their four years at Western Kentucky University. That’s especially evident for 20 Army ROTC cadets who will be commissioned as second lieutenants May 11-12 during WKU’s Commencement Weekend. The group includes three from the WBKR listening area:

Robert LeGrande of Central City, Jessica Howard of Henderson and Zachery Daugherty of Beaver Dam.

“We started together so we want to finish together,” said Cadet Battalion Commander Brittany Rexing of Huntsville, Ala. “We all wanted to graduate together.”

Cadet Executive Officer Ryan Ogden of Madison, Ala., said the group has been one of the largest at WKU and has built strong relationships in four years of classes, training and other activities. “It has been a privilege to work with all of them,” he said.

The cadets will be commissioned individually in a ceremony at 2 p.m. Friday at the Downing University Center Auditorium and will take the oath of commission as a group during the 6 p.m. undergraduate commencement ceremony Saturday at Diddle Arena.

The ROTC commissioning, which was added to WKU’s commencement in May 2002, has become a highlight of the May and December ceremonies. “Having the opportunity for ROTC to be recognized at commencement gives us a good feeling,” Ogden said.

WKU’s Class of 2012 is the largest to be commissioned this year in the five-state brigade (Kentucky, Tennessee, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio) headquartered at Fort Knox, according to Lt. Col. Jason Caldwell, head of WKU’s Department of Military Science and Leadership.

“I’m a firm believer in quality – and this class is high quality,” Caldwell said. “It is quite fitting they want to graduate together.”

In addition to the leadership skills and training cadets receive in ROTC courses, most students major in other programs and disciplines at WKU and are involved in campus organizations and other activities. “Our number one mission is academics,” Caldwell said.

“We all want the college experience, which will help us be better officers,” said Rexing, who is a business major and an alumni member of Phi Mu sorority.

Both Rexing and Ogden grew up in military families and will begin their military careers this summer, and they encourage all students to take advantage of the leadership training offered through military science courses and the ROTC program.

“If you’re thinking about the Army, give it a shot,” Ogden said. “Being an officer is a great opportunity to lead soldiers. WKU is a great place to start your career.”

“The whole program is obviously about leadership,” Rexing said. “Some people join even if they aren’t going to make a career out of the Army.”

Developing leaders for the military and for society is key for the program, said Caldwell, who has been at WKU for three years.

“My job is gatekeeper,” said Caldwell, who joined the U.S. Army in 1985 and is retiring this summer. “I have to make sure all the cadets are trained so that when I open the gate they are ready to lead a unit.”

Other cadets who will be commissioned as second lieutenants are: Dominique Adams of Indianapolis; Jacob Baldwin of Guston; Cody Balke of Brownsville; Kalan Brown of Bowling Green; Justin Cossel of Bowling Green; ; Joseph Dunphy of Winchester, Tenn.; Joshua Gonzales of Louisville; Kody Hoadley of Elizabethtown; Timathy Kloth of Delton, Mich.; Brittany Lepou of Ekron; Marquarious Moore of Elizabethtown; Steven Poland of Riverview, Fla.; Kevin Preston of Hazlet, N.J.; Michael Terry of Bowling Green; and Samuel Vessels of Elizabethtown.