Theresa Rogers saluting Lt. Colonel Beaver during the Prop and Wings ceremony. Photo by Sarah Martin.
When 5 a.m. rolls, Theresa Rogers is up and ready to start her day. With physical training at 6 a.m., she only has a short time to get ready and care for her pooch, Murph, as a University of Mississippi ROTC cadet.
“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, yeah?” she said in a gravelly, I-just-woke-up, voice as she choked down a protein shake and apple. “Honestly, I typically don’t eat breakfast, but I have to eat before PT… I’ll pass out for sure… but if I eat too much, I’ll blow chunks everywhere. I’ve got it down to a science at this point.”
Then she takes a walk around the block with her roommate, Sidney Wester, another ROTC cadet, and Murph, the dog they share. Without a leash, the 40 lbs. mutt runs circles around these ladies. It seems tough to keep up with a high energy dog. Nonetheless, the ladies know how important it is to exercise Murph before they leave for the day.
“One time, we had zero time to take him on a walk before we left, and I swear when we came home, it looked like we had been robbed,” she said.
Physical training is a one-hour workout mandatory in both ROTC and the military. Each day is a little different, so cadets never get comfortable. Today is a circuit training day and what they call a “Wing PT.” This is for freshman and sophomores to learn how field training will be.
Each station at the Turner Center is assigned one of the upperclassmen squadron commanders. As the stations were assigned, cadet Rodgers was first to volunteer. With a mischievous look in her eye, she turned and said: “If I run this circuit… I wont have to run,” she said.
About 20 minutes later, she realized she might not have to run, but she would be working her core muscles for the entire hour. Grabbing her core and laughing uncontrollably, she finally choked out: “I shoulda just ran.”
After an hour of PT, some upperclassmen joined to continue their workout. “When we do wing PT like that, it is cool, because we get to help the underclassmen,” said Wester, “but we don’t get a full workout. So it’s kind of up to us now if we want to continue.”
Walking up to the track, the cadets poke fun at each other about how slow they are. Each insists they are faster and stronger. Once at the track, cadets decide what they should do as a group.
“So, the point of this is to cut down our mile time and increase the amount of push-ups and sit-ups we can do in a minute,” Rogers said. “The faster our mile and the more push-ups and sit-ups we do, the more scholarships we can get. My goal is to get 1.5 miles in a 10:30, but that’s like the best of the best, so we will see.”
Cadets sprint around the track, doing push-ups and sit-ups between every other lap. About half of them sprint, while the others hang back to do floor work.
As they take off, their camaraderie and competitive nature is apparent. The first lap involves a little shoving when one begins to get ahead of the other, but the second lap is taken a little more seriously.
By the end of the workout, all cadets were dripping in sweat and panting. “I’m just gonna have to throw myself down these stairs, because I don’t think I’ll be able to make it,” Rodgers said. Clearly tired and ready to shower, each cadet faded from the group as they headed to their cars.
“Well hellooo, Murph,” said Rogers, who is greeted at the door by her pooch. He insists on licking her sweaty arms. “I used to get grossed out, but at this point I’m too tired to care.”
Another walk around the block, and then its off to get herself ready for the day. It’s Thursday, so every member of the ROTC program is in uniform today.
“Everyone knows it’s Thursday because of the uniforms,” Rogers said while packing her book bag with books, protein powder and other snacks. “I get so hungry throughout the day. Don’t judge me; it’s all healthy.”
As Rogers packed her bags and got ready for class, her roommate came downstairs and waited for her on the couch.
“An interview about Rogers? Hell I gotta get in on this,” Wester said. “I am the most Type A person you will ever meet, and Rogers… is so type B it hurts me. Honestly, I don’t know how we are friends or roommates, but opposites attract I guess.
“We actually hated each other when we first met. Not sure what it was, but we just didn’t. Then we were the only two girls left in the program after all of our friends either got disqualified or just dropped it. Kind of had to be friends after that.”
As Rogers came around the corner, Wester shouted: “I mean who’d wanna be friends with this punk unless you had to be?”
Rogers, a criminal justice major, said most of her classes are online, so she can spend more time focusing on things related to ROTC.
“I definitely did a tour a la majors to find it,” she said, “but here I am. I was originally an exercise science major, but I learned that I didn’t need it to get the job I want in the military… I want to be an aerospace physiologist. I’d pretty much be learning about what happens to people’s bodies in flight and teaching them how to care for themselves while up there. Pretty rad actually.”
Rodgers heads to the detachment, a place for all cadets to gather to do homework, meet with the commanders and have class. When class begins, the set-up is different than most classes. Classes are run by students to teach leadership and organization.
Each class starts with an inspirational quote. Today’s quote is from Rogers’ mentor, who she met at basic training camp. “They are gonna say what they want about you, but at least make them say you are tough.” The class loved it.
“I love that because, it’s so true,” Rogers said. “Many times, rumors are started, and you can be the last to know or hear it, and it’s about you. I think that’s why I focus so much on this program because they can call me what they want, but I make damn sure they can’t say I’m a bad airman.”
Each cadet was asked to give their “Why?” Why are you here? Why do you want to join the Air force after college? Each answer ranged from money and school to family tradition.
It was time for Cadet Rogers to answer: “My brother and I had a strained relationship growing up. A 13-year age gap does that. He wanted to join the military as a child, but because of medical reasons, he didn’t make it. I decided to join, honestly, to grow closer to him and get his acceptance.”
After the class filed out, Cadet Rogers took off to her next class. “I don’t do emotions,” she said. “I typically keep them bundled up, so that was hard for me.” She avoided eye contact and made her way to lunch.
As Rogers walked into her sorority house, she looked back and laughed a bit. “Me in a sorority,” she said. “Who woulda thought?” She heads in and instantly stands out because of her uniform. Girls surround her in brightly colored oversized T-shirts and leggings. She enters into a sea of color to grab her meal and find a seat.
Rogers caught up with her homework while keeping the conversation going at the table. “Because all of my classes are online, I always do it during lunch,” she said. “I’ve got a nice two-hour gap before I have to head back to Lead Lab.”
With one more class left, Rogers heads to the FedEx building to finish her day on campus. With all the cadets standing at attention, an overview of the next week is called out. “Dismissed.” Cadets scatter like ants.
Cadet day has come to an end. “All I wanna do is go to Mug Shots for happy hour and then go snuggle my pup,” she said. That’s exactly what she did. The same cadet group that worked out together headed to MugShots Grill and Bar in Oxford and began to unwind.
“Kind of hard not to get close to these guys,” she said. “I don’t know. Everything happens for a reason, and I guess God wanted me to meet these shitheads.”
Despite the name calling, the table made fun of her with a simultaneous: “Awwww!”
The night went on. Drinks were ordered and food was eaten. The day had come to an end, and it seemed Cadet Rogers couldn’t be happier surrounded by those she loves.