AFROTC cadets are taught to stand up for what they believe in, but Maj Gen Joseph McNeil did just the opposite. He sat down. In 1960, McNeil, an AFROTC cadet at North Carolina A&T, and three other students sat at a whites-only lunch counter in Greensboro and forever changed America. He would go on to serve his country as an Air Force Navigator during the Vietnam War and then in the Air Force Reserve where he eventually retired as a major general.
Col Eileen M. Collins proved that AFROTC can take you anywhere. Even space. A graduate of the program at Syracuse University, Col Collins had a successful career as a Pilot in the Air Force before being selected by NASA to command STS-63 Discovery in 1995, becoming the first female space shuttle pilot. Col Collins would end up taking part in three more shuttle missions before hanging up her astronaut suit after her final flight in 2005.
Col Ellison Onizuka, a former Air Force Test Pilot and graduate of AFROTC at the University of Colorado, became the first Asian American to reach space when he flew on the space shuttle Discovery. A year later, on January 28, 1986, Col Onizuka was the mission specialist on the doomed space shuttle Challenger. While his life ended far too early, his legacy and impact live on.
Eugene Francis Kranz, an AFROTC graduate from Parks College of Saint Louis University is proof that you don’t have to leave the ground to make space history. His NASA career includes being a flight director on 33 missions during Projects Gemini, Apollo and Skylab, which earned him the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Eugene Kranz is best known for directing the Mission Control Team during the first lunar landing and saving the crew of the Apollo 13 after its oxygen system failed.
Both in and out of uniform, U.S. Representative Samuel R. Johnson spent his life serving others. After commissioning through AFROTC at SMU, Johnson flew combat missions over Korea and Vietnam where he was eventually captured and held as a prisoner of war for nearly seven years in Hanoi. When he retired from the Air Force as a colonel after 29 years, Johnson dedicated another 27 years to his country representing the state of Texas as a distinguished member of Congress.
Few have had a more distinguished career than Gen John P. Jumper. A graduate of the Virginia Military Institute’s AFROTC program, Gen Jumper spent nearly four decades in the U.S. Air Force. He commanded two fighter wings, 9th Air Force, U.S. Air Forces in Europe and eventually served as a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff advising the president during Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.
Gen Richard Myers served more than 40 years in the U.S. Air Force after graduating from Kansas State University. He has commanded at every level, from Pacific Air Forces to the Air Force Space Command. Shortly after the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001, Gen Myers was named the 15th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, becoming the only AFROTC-commissioned officer to do so and making him responsible for the nation’s defense policy over the next decade.
The leadership cadets learn in Air Force ROTC can be carried with them long after they hang up their uniforms. Just ask Stuart Parker. After graduating from Georgia’s Valdosta State University with a degree in business administration, Parker became an instructor pilot and later flew the C-141 Starlifter during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Today he’s applying the leadership lessons he learned in AFROTC as the CEO of USAA, one of the largest financial services companies in the country.
From L.A. to D.C., Lt Gen Stayce Harris turned her Air Force ROTC training into a distinguished career that included being a squadron, group and wing commander. A graduate of the University of Southern California, she was the Inspector General of the Air Force and oversaw the inspection and evaluation for all Air Force nuclear and conventional forces as well as counterintelligence operations.
Lt Gen Ronnie Hawkins received his commission as a graduate of AFROTC program at Angelo State University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration. He used his leadership skills to guide a global organization of military and civilian personnel as the Director of the Defense Information Systems Agency, where he worked in direct support of the president, secretary of defense and Joint Chiefs of Staff.
After graduating from Air Force ROTC at Arizona State University, Maj Gen Margaret Woodward flew and commanded missions during Operations Just Cause, Northern Watch, Southern Watch, Allied Force, Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. She commanded at the squadron, group, wing and numbered levels and applied her experience to help fight another battle as the Director of the Air Force Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) office in Washington, D.C.
In 2014, Gen Lori Robinson became the first female Air Force ROTC graduate to earn a fourth star. After receiving her degree at the University of New Hampshire, Gen Robinson served as an air battle manager before rising through the ranks, including leading 2,000 Airmen in Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. She eventually became Commander of United States Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command, and in 2016, Time magazine named her to its list of the 100 most influential people in the world.