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Monday, September 25, 2023

UF Air Force ROTC cadet soars above competition

Maureen Hartney said she isn't perfect. She's still 15 push-ups shy of her 62-a-minute goal. She only has a 3.9 GPA. She hasn't saved the world yet.

Hartney, the 20-year-old UF Air Force ROTC Wing Commander, recently topped thousands of cadets when she was named the Air Force Association's Outstanding Cadet of the Year.

She'll accept her award in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 23, five days after her 21st birthday, which is also the birthday of the Air Force, she said.

Air Force ROTC headquarters also rated UF's program "outstanding" for the first time in the program's 65-year history. Only the top 5 percent of the 144 ROTC units in the nation receive that title, said Capt. Scott Norman, UF's ROTC Commandant of Cadets.

The unit was judged on training, recruitment and academic success, Norman said.

The detachment was also named the No. 1 program in the Southeast and is competing with three other units to be best in the nation, he said.

Results would be released in October, he added.

As for Hartney, Norman said she sets the perfect example for all the ROTC students.

"She is far and away the sharpest, most focused and most mature cadet I've ever seen at this stage," Norman said.

Hartney said it wouldn't get to her head.

"There are people that have done more good things than I have," she said. "It's what I do as Wing Commander that actually matters."

In that position, she said she's pretty much in charge of running the UF Air Force ROTC program. She oversees about 100 people.

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"I used to get overwhelmed, but it's worth it," she said. "It's probably the best thing I've ever done."

Hartney, a political science and history senior, said her father was in the Air Force, so she felt destined to join.

"It just seemed like the natural thing to do," she said.

As she sat behind a bulky wooden desk, with a small American flag next to her computer and paperwork neatly stacked beside it, Hartney described her typical day.

She wakes up before 6 a.m. to work out or for military trainings, she said. Then she catches up on homework and has class during the day.

After that, it's back to the sky-blue Air Force office where she files papers, organizes trainings, monitors fundraising and plans events.

On Wednesdays, she leads 6 a.m. field training, which is like boot camp, for underclassmen. It teaches mental discipline, attention to detail and how to think under pressure.

This year, physical discipline was removed from the training. Underclassmen can no longer be ordered "on your face" or to "drop and gimme 20," she said with a laugh.

Mondays and Fridays are easier, she said. She sleeps in until 8 a.m.

Hartney said she exercises one to two hours a day.

"In the military, you have an image," she said. "You don't want to be a lazy representative of your country."

She still has a life. She hangs out with other ROTC students, including her boyfriend.

But the college life won't last forever, she said.

Eventually, it will be hard to have a family, Hartney said, and going to war is a certainty.

"If you don't want to be deployed right now, this isn't the field for you," Hartney said.

Her goal is to be a fighter-bomber pilot, for which she'll train after spring graduation.

She said it won't be easy to push a button causing death and destruction, but it will be for a purpose.

"Am I fighting for a better world? I think we are," she said. "I do have that faith."

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