Justin Lester wants to give back and he’s already well on his way to doing that. The recent Jenkins High School graduate is going into the ROTC program at Central Washington University after earning a three-year scholarship that will pay for his college tuition after his freshman year of school.
“I’ve always felt interested in the military as a career path,” Lester said. “My mother always told me that happiness is found in giving not taking. In the community I’ve grown up in, I’ve seen people do this lots of times.”
After a long application process, suggested by Lester’s teacher Joe Trudeau, the JHS student had to interview with ROTC Lt. Col. David Bingham of Gonzaga to see if his personality was a right fit for the military. He was informed three months later that he had been awarded the scholarship. There was still more work to be done, however, as Lester had to fill out even more packets and complete military medical screening. “There was lots of driving involved,” Lester admits.
ROTC, or Army Reserve Officer’s Training Corps, was created by the National Defense Act of 1916 but military training has occurred at civilian colleges and universities as early as 1819.
Essentially, students are expected to at least minor in military science and after four years of the ROTC program at college, they are commissioned as second lieutenants in a branch of service of their choosing and guarantee eight years of service.
Lester chose Central Washington University because its program is well-respected and it offers academically what he’s looking for. CWU won the Ranger Challenge from 1992-98 against bigger schools in the region with much larger ROTC programs.
“At UW I would be part of a large group and personally I don’t want to get lost in that,” Lester said. “The class size definitely played a big part into it.”
In ROTC, Lester will be living in a campus barracks, drilling one weekend of each month while learning the ins and outs of the US military and military life. After four years of college, students go to officer candidate school and about 6-8 months of training depending on the branch and track a student decides on. Lester wants to go into medical science and wants to become a health occupational specialist in the military.
“Outside the scholarship, what stood out to me about the ROTC is inside the army those skills can readily transfer to a real-life career in the civilian world,” Lester said.
While the military also offers a pension and government healthcare, Lester can come away from his service with a physicians assistant license. Lester said that he wants to get in the medical field because he’s seen what the medical professionals in Chewelah have given back to the community.
“I’m working at Akers Pharmacy as an assistant and I’ve worked closely with doctors and have seen what they’ve done,”Lester said. “Dr. Boone went to Harvard and he decided to come to Chewelah. Dr. Larsen has applied humor and commitment to his practice.”
JHS teacher Nick Oltean inspired Lester in his sophomore year to get into science and the medical field is something Lester feels science is directly applied to giving back. Lester has had some experience of giving back and being part of the community already. Heavily involved in the theatre community, Lester starred in mainstage roles for Les Miserables and One Flew Over the Coo Coo’s Nest at JHS.
“Janet McLaughlin inspired me to work on developing character and becoming a leader,” Lester said.
Lester was also ASB president at JHS, where he said he enjoyed playing a leadership role and being in a position where he could serve his fellow students. He was also a four-year varsity football player for the Chewelah Cougars under Jim Fisk – who helped him out with the ROTC application process. Lester said football showed him the rewarding aspects of being part of team.
“Players showed up everyday and made me appreciate the type of commitment to a goal and showed me how to bring people together for one purpose,” Lester said.
Lester said he was also inspired by JHS teacher Michael Schut, who taught him a lot about perseverance, and he also really appreciates the guidance and help he got from the Kirrys, Sean Taboloff and Kat Malcom. Joe Trudeau also worked with Lester in choosing to go into the ROTC and the different options he could take while considering the military.
Already an officer himself, Trudeau was able to give Lester first-hand advice on the military. Now that the diplomas have been handed out, Lester is ready to begin a new chapter in his life. He’ll have to wait over the summer however, and Akers still has him on the work schedule.
By Brandon Hansen/The Independent Staff