Lindsay Bronson rolls off the Hawaiian print bed sheet draped on the futon in the middle of her living room after the third alarm on her phone, which is set on loud, goes off.
Staggering to the closet she impulsively puts on her physical training (PT) uniform, only getting the order right because she set the clothes out the night before.
Not being allowed to wear her usual jewelry and dark makeup, Lindsay pulls her hair back in a tight bun and is out the door without another glance at the mirror.
“I don’t care what I look like now,” she says. “No one really does.”
She needs to hurry and meet her friends who are waiting to let her inside the Lake Superior Hall (LSH) lobby.
They are all headed down the hallway to the fitness center to begin another day of their Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (AFROTC), giving each other pointers on how to fold their towels and oversized dark green Eskimo hooded jackets correctly.
Of all the Field Training Preparation (FTP) cadets lined in a row on one side of the stark gym, in their dark blue shorts and reflective air force logo shining on their grey shirts, Lindsay definitely stands out. Looking from the waist down you see the apparent Duluth winter skin on all the officers in training except for one pair of legs that are perfectly golden, full of Vitamin D.
Sprinting up and down the length of the gym the sun is finally beginning to shine in on the FTPs who have begun to break a sweat. Along with sprints they must do push-ups and sit-ups, as well as ensure their piles of clothes aligned along the wall are straight and folded correctly.
Keeping things in order is highly reiterated by the Professional Officer Course (POC), whose job is to train the FTPs for field training. Cadet Greg Bronson does so accordingly.
“This is not about being comfortable,” he says to the cadets who have been sitting perpendicularly to the wall for minutes doing their wall-sit exercises.
Lindsay proves herself by properly reciting the articles of the Air Force mission to POC cadet Jordan Bronson, as well as singing the Air Force song, all while remaining in her 90 degree position.
Three Bronsons in one gym. Their last name is not some wacky coincidence; they are all siblings. All students at UMD. All dedicated to the AFROTC.
The Bronson trio lived in Bangor, Maine, where their dad was stationed because he too is in the Air Force, until Lindsay was 8 years old. Then, wanting to be closer to family, they moved to Spooner, Wisc., and her dad retired with the Air Force in the reserves there.
“We have a tight-knit family,” Jordan said.
Jordan, being the oldest, is a higher rank than Greg and Lindsay but this isn’t an issue for them.
“We keep it professional,” Jordan said. “I don’t give them any special attention.”
Special attention is not needed during PT because Lindsay and the other FTPs are constantly being called out, to ensure they are ready for field training this summer in Maxwell, Ala.
“I’m in the toughest semester of ROTC right now, which is pretty intense training,” Lindsay said.
After completing field training Lindsay will become a POC along with her brothers. This gives her more responsibilities in AFROTC and prepares her for active duty beginning after her graduation in 2012.
Classes begin. Lindsay is majoring in international studies with a minor in geography in addition to her required Air Force classes totaling 17 credits. Her major is influenced by her desire to travel, and the Air Force will fund her itch to explore the world.
Being in AFROTC for almost two years now, she’s been to Arizona, South Carolina and Las Vegas. At these places she had the opportunity to tour the Air Force bases and talk with current active duty members. Speaking to the women on these bases, Lindsay soon realized that having a serious relationship with someone could potentially be troublesome.
“As a woman I personally would feel kind of weird dating someone who was not in the military and I am,” Lindsay said. “It would be kind of weird to have them follow you around to a base.”
This could be influenced by her family history, but it is more likely to be from her current boyfriend, Ryan Pittman, who is in AFROTC along with her and her brothers.
There are many couples in the program currently, and seven couples are even engaged.
“People who are in ROTC in general are committed people,” Lindsay said. “Kids will rush to get married once they get commissioned so it doesn’t surprise me that they’re ready to get married sooner. But it is more convenient. If I’m not ready to get married by the time I graduate though, I’m not going to.”
This confidence is what enables Lindsay to be successful in the AFROTC, even when others doubt her abilities.
Greg was surprised when Lindsay said she wanted to join.
“She didn’t seem the type in high school,” he said.
Surprised or not of her decision, Lindsay’s parents were excited for her.
“They’re really proud that all three of their kids are in the military,” she said.
Her dad helped her put it into perspective that through AFROTC she could get free schooling. While he was concerned with his baby girl joining AFROTC Lindsay never felt pressured to join.
“They’ve always been really supportive of it,” she said, “but I’m a really big daddy’s girl.”
She knew the Air Force was something she had to do, though; for her family, for her country, and most importantly, for herself.
“I grew up in a patriotic family and I think it’s really important to serve your country.”
Patriotic? Yes. Penny pinching? Maybe not. Lindsay is very good at spending money. So good she wants to make a career out of it. Within the Air Force she wants to be a contractor and then some day when done with active duty, continue contracting for a company on the outside.
“They get to spend all the money, which I’m good at,” she said laughing. “I like to shop a lot.”
This is apparent just by looking at her room. With two dressers and closets full of clothes, jewelry hanging from the walls, scarves tangled on her bedpost, a black and white picture of Audrey Hepburn hanging from the wall and bright fabrics gracefully draped over the usual drab curtains of a university-owned room, it is apparent that this girl has style.
From the AFROTC program, Lindsay receives full tuition, a $3000 scholarship for housing on campus along with a $1,000 scholarship from UMD. Along with these scholarships the military gives you other benefits.
Major Jason Jaros, Lindsay’s commanding officer says, “You also have your monthly stipend $350 per month while class is in session for sophomores. Also they get $900 for books which is a flat annual rate.”
While the military is very generous in giving the officers expenses, she still works as a hostess at Black Woods about 15 hours a week. One of Lindsay’s friends, Jake Harris, is planning on taking full advantage of the military’s generosity.
“Right out of college you can get a good paying job that’s guaranteed which most people can’t say,” Jake says. “It takes 20 years to retire in the Air Force and get all the benefits for life, all the benefits people strive for in their regular job.”
Class and work are over and Lindsay still has some time to hang out with her friends.
“I have a really healthy social life, maybe too healthy,” Lindsay says chuckling. “I don’t drink for religious reasons but I still go to parties, and movies. I love going to movies. I’m usually really tired though.”
Many in her social circle are Air Force officers as well, along with her brothers and boyfriend.
“We eat dinner with our grandparents on Sundays after church and sometimes will bring a couple friends along,” Jordan said. “It’s usually a lot of fun.”
Lindsay’s roommate, Bridget Witschen, was an officer in training with Lindsay until last semester. Unfortunately Bridget had to leave the AFROTC program and leave a lot of her friends behind as well.
“There were a bunch of people I would talk to all the time and now I don’t talk to them at all,” Witschen said.
This is not as uncommon as you’d think however.
Major Jaros said that out of 36 cadets entering this year as freshman, three decided to leave the program and others have left as well.
“We’re down to 26 now so the rest were disqualified for whatever reason,” Major Jaros said.
With her jewelry off and phone alarm turned on loud Lindsay is nestled on the living room futon once again, with a sign above her head reading “Make Good Choices.”
“I think how much easier college would be if I didn’t have ROTC,” Lindsay says. “I don’t regret it though.”
In five short hours her first alarm will be going off to begin yet another day of training. This will bring her one day closer to deployment in the United States military, just another step in her family’s footprints that Lindsay will follow.