Ivy Leaf - Spring 2004
In some ways, Luke Wheeler is just like a lot of college students. He doesn't know where he's going to end up after graduation. However, unlike the average student, Wheeler isn't going to have much say in the matter.
Wheeler is in the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program at Penn State Altoona. His past three years at the College have been spent preparing for an uncertain future, as the state of world affairs continually changes.
"I know that when I graduate, there's a good chance I'll be sent somewhere I normally wouldn't choose to be," Wheeler said. But Wheeler is determined to make the best of the situation, knowing that wherever he is sent, it is to serve his country.
"I know that whether I stay in the military for four years or twenty years, while I'm in it and when I'm done, it will be something that I'll be very proud of accomplishing," Wheeler said. "And that's one of the biggest factors that pushes me."
Though his grandfather fought in World War II, Wheeler wasn't inspired to join the military because of family history. It was just something he felt would be right for him, and the right thing to do.
Because many of Penn State Altoona's ROTC students transfer to University Park for their final two years of college, Wheeler had the distinction of being the only junior in the program this year. Both he and his instructor, Captain Rob Cruz, are appreciative of the opportunity that provides.
"Luke really brings a lot to the table for us," Cruz said. "He brings a lot of knowledge and it's obvious that he's in charge. You can tell by his maturity and his interaction with the younger students that he is a leader."
Wheeler has enjoyed the opportunity to teach and be a role model for other students in the program.
"Your first year in ROTC is not too hard, but as the years go on it gets more involved," Wheeler said. "As you go through the program, you actually begin doing some of the instructing. I have enjoyed the transition from being taught to being the person responsible for teaching; I've enjoyed developing myself as a leader."
Wheeler's role as a leader isn't restricted to his duties in the ROTC program. The young cadet is also in his third season as a member of the baseball team.
"Luke has natural leadership qualities," stated Joe Piotti, head baseball coach at Penn State Altoona. "He is a quality student and has a great attitude."
For Wheeler, playing baseball is about enjoying the game and having the opportunity to be part of a team. Modestly, he doesn't really see himself playing the same leadership role on the baseball team as he plays in ROTC. "However, I do try to portray myself as a leader in all of the things that I do, and always set a good example for others," Wheeler said.
Wheeler believes that the best leaders lead by example, and the folks that he admires most in that role are the people that surround him at Penn State Altoona.
"I admire the leaders on the baseball team because they teach by example," Wheeler said. "I feel the same way about Coach Piotti, Captain Cruz, Sergeant Frazier, and Sergeant Diaz."
Wheeler will face one of his biggest challenges this summer when he heads off to Fort Lewis, Washington, for the Leadership Development Assessment Course. There, he will be assessed on the leadership qualities he has been honing at Ivyside Park.
According to Cruz, Wheeler will receive a grade for his performance at the course. That score, combined with his performance in the ROTC program, will be combined into an overall score. His overall score will help determine whether or not Wheeler gets his first choice in career options within the military.
"Right now [mid-semester], if I went to the Leadership Development Assessment Course, I think I would be just par," Wheeler said. "But with the training I'll go through the rest of this semester, I think I'm going to be fully prepared and I expect to perform well."