Natalie Stephens, a senior from Naperville, Illinois majoring in Criminology, is the Air Force Reserve Officers Training Corps (AFROTC) Cadet of the Year for 2022. Chosen by the Navy Federal Credit Union’s ROTC All-American Scholarship Program, Stephens is one of three cadets selected from 15 national finalists representing Air Force, Army and Navy/Marines ROTC programs.
In addition to a $6,500 scholarship for Stephens, the award also provides a $5,000 donation to the University of Utah’s AFROTC general scholarship fund. Cadet Stephens was recognized, along with the other two Cadets of the Year, at the halftime show of the Military Bowl in Annapolis, Maryland on December 28th.
“Throughout my years in ROTC I have met countless amazing people and I truly could not be here without their consistent encouragement and inspiration,” Stephens says. “I value every day I have spent both at the U and as a cadet, and I would like to thank my friends and family for their endless support. I think acknowledging every cadet nationwide is very important because they all have made sacrifices for the greater good and I continue to be inspired by them every day.”
According to the Navy Federal Credit Union, the ROTC All-American Scholarship Program launched in 2018 to “honor the best and brightest ROTC seniors across the nation. The Scholarship Program highlights rising senior ROTC students who best embody the pillars of the program: Leadership, Military Excellence, Scholarship and Service.”
Upon graduating in Spring 2023, according to the award citation, “Cadet Stephens will commission as a Second Lieutenant and will attend Air Force Pilot Training, with the goal of becoming a USAF Fighter Pilot.”
“We pride ourselves on developing leaders of character who will go out into the world and make a positive difference not just supporting our amazing nation, but also our local communities,” says Lt. Col. Graham R. “Jinx” Stewart, professor of aerospace studies and commander of the University of Utah’s AFROTC Detachment 850. “We train our cadets to be leaders, and individuals who can make decisions and positively impact their surroundings, despite how austere the environment might be. Cadet Natalie Stephens exhibits all these traits and then some. She is a warrior, leader, thinker and positive role model for not only our younger cadets, but for everyone she interacts with.”
“I have always looked up to the men and women in uniform and I was deeply inspired by their selfless actions and commitment to America,” Stephens says. “I am very motivated by the veterans I have met throughout my life, my family members who have served, and the opportunity to preserve the amazing values America stands for.”
At the Military Bowl, Stephens and the other Cadets of the Year met with seven recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor “which was an incredibly inspirational and remarkable experience!” she says. She participated in the pre-game parade, and enjoyed the bowl game along with her mother, father and sister. Later, they toured Washington, D.C. “D.C. was an unforgettable experience and I really valued being able to see the buildings and memorials that house and remember our national leaders,” she says.
“My experience at the Military Bowl was very impactful,” she adds. “I was able to connect with a wide variety of amazing people and I am very thankful for everyone I was able to meet.”