Coming Out Ahead: Higgins and Smutka Share How They Overcome Obstacles
FORT KNOX, Ky., – 3rd Regiment, Advanced Camp Cadets complete their weapons qualification at Pells Range, Fort Knox, Ky., June 18, 2023. Cadets spent the last three days preparing. Prior to making it to weapons qualifications, Cadets must go through the preliminary marksmanship instruction, the engagement skills trainer, and then, group and zero on the days leading up to qualifications day. Cadets will complete a practice round before participating in the official qualifications round. Cadet Haley Higgins, University of Central Missouri, scored a 23 on the practice round of the qualifications. Cadets must hit a minimum of 23 out of 40 […]
FORT KNOX, Ky., – 3rd Regiment, Advanced Camp Cadets complete their weapons qualification at Pells Range, Fort Knox, Ky., June 18, 2023.
Cadets spent the last three days preparing. Prior to making it to weapons qualifications, Cadets must go through the preliminary marksmanship instruction, the engagement skills trainer, and then, group and zero on the days leading up to qualifications day.
Cadets will complete a practice round before participating in the official qualifications round.
Cadet Haley Higgins, University of Central Missouri, scored a 23 on the practice round of the qualifications. Cadets must hit a minimum of 23 out of 40 targets to pass their qualifications.
“I didn’t do bad, but I think that I could have done better,” Higgins said. “I’m ready for the second one.”
The practice round is paced much faster than the official round to help prepare Cadets.
“I know that the first one is faster speed than the second one, so that makes me feel a little more at ease,” Higgins said. “I think that it’s helped me to know exactly what’s going on.”
Higgins’ road to Advanced Camp and serving in the military was influenced by her family. Her father was in the Air Force, and her brother joined the Navy. When it came time for her to decide which branch she would serve in, she researched until she found what suited her best.
“I was thinking Air Force because that’s what my dad did, but I was looking into everything,” Higgins said. “There’s a lot more opportunities that I was interested in through the Army, so that’s why I decided to choose that route.”
Higgins was impressed with the University of Missouri’s Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program and was offered a scholarship to attend.
In 2021, Higgins joined the National Guard where she was required to go through the Military Entrance Processing Stations. MEPS evaluates Soldier’s physical and mental levels to make sure that Soldiers fit the mental and physical standards of the Army.
When Higgins was measured for height and weight during MEPS, she learned she was underweight for her height classification.
“I was supposed to be 117 [pounds] at my height; I was 115 [pounds],” Higgins said. “So, I had to go there twice, and I finally got right to 117.”
Higgins has worked on her physical form to grow stronger from where she started two years ago.
“It’s been really cool seeing from the beginning doing workouts in the morning, how much I struggled and was behind,” Higgins said. “Now, I’ve gained, like, 30-pounds of muscle since I’ve started, and I can keep up with my peers and excel past some of my peers, too.”
Higgins always wanted to get stronger even before she decided to join ROTC, but her peers motivated her to work on her strength.
“I think just being surrounded by strong people, people that were determined to get better really gave me that push to actually go forward and do it instead of just being like, ‘Man, I want to do that,’” Higgins said.
Higgins is currently studying elementary education at her university where she hopes to graduate and become a teacher in the civilian world as well as commission to be a military intelligence officer or adjunct general officer with the National Guard.
“I knew that I wanted to be a teacher, but also be in the military, so I was trying to think of how to do both of those things,” Higgins said. “So, I just think that’s really cool that I get to do what I wanted to do in civilian life, but also get to do it on the Army side, too.”
After everything Higgins had been through, she was determined to try to get a better score on her official weapons qualification. Her goal was to hit 30 out of 40 targets.
Higgins managed to exceed her goal by scoring a 31 out of 40 for her final weapons qualification.
Higgins was not the only Cadet who struggled during her practice round at weapons qualifications but was able to focus and succeed during the official round.
Cadet Lindsay Smutka’s, Saint John’s University in Minnesota, M4 rifle malfunctioned during her practice round. When it came time for her to complete the official round of qualifications, she was understandably nervous.
When Smutka went up to shoot for the official round, her weapon did not malfunction.
“I was a little stressed because on our practice I had two weapon malfunctions, so I was concerned that it was going to happen again,” Smutka said. “Luckily, it didn’t, and I’m really happy with my score.”
Smutka walked off the range with a 28 out of 40 on her official qualifications.
Like Higgins, Smutka was also influenced to serve by her family members who have served in the U.S. military. Smutka’s aunt and grandfather both served in the Army.
“I started looking at ROTC in high school because I had prior service in my family, and it seemed like it was a really good opportunity, especially for nurses,” Smutka said. “My aunt was a nurse in the Army, and I am a nursing major, and you get a lot of really good training, especially as a student nurse.”
Smutka has one more year left until she graduates from college where she hopes to go active duty once she is commissioned.
“With nursing, it’s a lot easier of a schedule to do active duty because with the Reserves, you are trying to balance your off schedule at the hospital with the Reserves duty,” Smutka said. “Plus, I just think that there’s a lot more opportunities when you are active [duty].”
Cadets with the 3rd Regiment, Advanced Camp, will now take the skills they have learned with their M4 rifles to participate in the battle, march, and shoot in the next few days.
Jaden Whiteman is a senior at Ball State University, majoring in photojournalism. She grew up in Indianapolis, Indiana. She has an interest in sports photography and nature photography. You can often find her curled up with a book or out hiking. She hopes to learn more writing skills and broadcasting skills. She hopes to polish up her photo skills this summer as a Public Affairs Office intern at Cadet Summer Training.