PITTSBURG — Pittsburg State University ROTC cadets were inspired to serve their country by veterans.
Military Science fourth year Cadets John Brackett, of Leavenworth, Chantz Yager, of Scott City, and Wyatt Charles Pressnell, of Derby, were children when they met veterans who opened their eyes to joining the military.
“It is pretty crazy how much each of our lives our affected by that one percent,” Yager said of the one percent of Americans who have joined the military.

Brackett is following in his own father’s and grandfather’s footsteps. His grandfather is a retired Colonel of the United States Army of over 20 years and was in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. He was an infantry officer at first, then switched to air defense artillery.

Brackett’s father is a retired Lt. Colonel of 26 years who was also in the U.S. Army and served in the Gulf War in the 1990s and was sent on deployments in the 2000s to Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait. He started as an infantry officer and later switched to logistics.
“Growing up, I always saw my dad as a soldier and I always thought I’d follow in his footsteps,” Brackett said. “Since I was 10 or 12, I decided I was going into the military.”

Brackett said his father always talked highly of the Army and of his opportunities. He said his father shared stories about places he went to and was stationed.
“Combined with boys always looking up to their dads and want to be what their dad is, that kind of just stuck with me and never really left,” Brackett said.
Although retired, his father now works as a civilian in the Army and is currently in Saudi Arabia. They converse through mostly email.
“He’s always asking me how ROTC and college is going,” he said.

Yager is following his grandfather’s footsteps. His grandfather served in the Army during the Vietnam War and in the 1960s he went to ROTC at Colorado State where he commissioned as an Infantry officer.
“There hasn’t been a point in my life where I didn't think I was going to serve my country,” he said. “Giving more of yourself for the nation’s defense … that is something that always interested me.”

There were many sacrifices his grandfather, and many other soldiers, had to make. His grandfather didn’t even know he became a father until weeks after.
“He had no communication,” Yager said. “He’s gone for a year and he’s had a child that was born at the time.
“It’s crazy sacrifice stories like that, that are eye opening and and show us that our struggles are nothing in the grand-scheme of things.”

Yager praised veterans for standing strong during hardships. Through ROTC the cadets were given an “eye opener” of what some soldiers have gone through. This includes the annual trip to White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico where they participated in a 26 mile long ruck march for the Bataan Memorial Death March.  

The memorial march commemorates thousands of U.S. and Filipino soldiers who served in WWII. They marched 60 miles, were captured by Japanese forces and put into work camps. They endured harsh weather conditions and lacked supplies.
“I think that has been the hardest event in my life and has been an eye opener for me because even when you get done with that 26 miles and you feel like absolute crap at the end of it, you realize the men that actually went through this didn’t have 26 miles to go — they had 66,” Yager said. “He didn’t have water, he didn’t have food and he didn’t have shoes.
“That kind of stuff is a huge motivating factor and shows you anything you experience in life is very, very small in comparison to what others have faced.”

Pressnell agreed.
“We’ve done some hard stuff, but it was stuff we’ve chosen to do,” he said. “It wasn’t hardship we had to endure, suffering we had to endure.”

Pressnell’s father did not serve in the military. His father was a policeman who served for over 30 years.
“Because of that, the majority of people that I grew up around — my father’s coworkers— were all veterans,” he said. “I decided when I was four, I knew from then on I was going to be in the Army, there was no doubt in my mind that was the career God was calling me to.”

There were a handful of mentors in Pressnell's life who had encouraged him to serve his country, he said.
“My middle name is Charles —  I was named after him,” he said about a veteran named Charles. “He was in the 82nd (Airborne) between Korea and Vietnam and he actually was in the same guard unit where I’m at now.
“He’s going to be my first salute in the spring when I commission.”

Pressnell said he was also privileged to meet one of the last surviving members of Merrill's Marauders —  a precursor unit to modern special forces, which served in the Pacific during WWII. Another veteran he met survived the Chosin Reservoir campaign in Korea, “which was one of the worst defeats we suffered in the Korean War,” Pressnell said.
“Those men, hearing their stories, their reason to serve and despite all of the difficulty they went through .... they were never afraid, they were always courageous and always had the right intentions.
“I had no desire, but to be a man like those men.”
Upon commissioning in the spring, Brackett hopes to be part of military police, Yager is putting “all his money on infantry,” and Pressnell will be staying with the Kansas Army National Guard as a chaplain.
— Stephanie Potter is a staff writer at the Morning Sun. She can be emailed at spotter@morningsun.net or follow her on Twitter @PittStephP and Instagram @stephanie_morningsun.