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One thousand and counting
Highly rated cadet achieves milestone for top-ranked ROTC program

Michael Lugo is wired to be in the military. His words. Born on an Air Force base, he knew he wanted to be in the service since he was a kid.

Bonnie Lugo pins a gold bar on her son, Michael Lugo
Bonnie Lugo pins a gold bar on her son, Michael Lugo, signifying his commission as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army. Michael became the 1,000th cadet commissioned from UT Arlington's ROTC program during ceremonies in December.

"My father served in the Vietnam War, and my grandfather served in World War II," he said. "And I have that same passion to serve others."

Lugo, who graduated in December with a bachelor's degree in criminology and criminal justice, is the 1,000th cadet commissioned from UT Arlington's ROTC program.

The commissioning marked a milestone in the long history of the Maverick Battalion, which is currently ranked first out of 21 programs in Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico. The rating is based on enrollment/retention, cadet rankings and performance, and percentage of cadets commissioned, according to the U.S. Army’s Cadet Command.

"If you added the number of Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine, active, guard, reserve, mobilized and even military civilians together, we equal less than 3 million," said Lt. Col. Kevin Smith, admissions and scholarship officer for the Military Science Department. "Lugo belongs to a very elite group, less than 1 percent, of individuals dedicated to taking on the responsibility of guarding the freedoms of more than 300 million Americans."

Lugo's commissioning followed a semester filled with rigorous physical and mental training that included field exercises, combat water survival, and battle drill and squad tactic training every week.

His military career actually started more than a decade ago when he joined the Army in 1993. In 1995 he took a job with the Fort Worth Fire Department and later began a second job as a Fort Worth reserve police officer.

But he longed to return to the military—and earn a college degree. His work schedule was too busy for him to pursue both at the same time, so he explored other options.

When he looked into getting his ROTC commission from UT Arlington in 2004, he also checked out the University's distance education programs. What he found was the online bachelor's completion degree in criminology and criminal justice.

"That program is the best thing that ever happened to me," Lugo said. "It was the only way I could work a full-time student experience into my more than full-time job requirements with the fire and police departments."

He still faced several obstacles during his ROTC training.

"For one thing, a lot has changed in the military since I was on active duty 10 years ago. Learning new tactics and methods and combat operations accelerates the Army's learning curve tremendously, and I wasn't around for that. And trying to balance the expectations people have of a prior-service soldier with the reality that I was 10 years removed from that was very challenging."

Equally challenging was preparing for the month-long leadership development assessment course, or "Warrior Forge," at Fort Lewis, Wash. Between the junior and senior year, every ROTC cadet in the country competes against peers and is ranked on performance.

"It's extremely competitive," Lugo said. "You’re being assessed as a leader during every waking hour. And one of the great things about the ROTC program at UT Arlington is that it spends your entire junior year preparing you for the Warrior Forge."

The practice paid off. Lugo was ranked 37th out of 3,815 participants, placing him in the top 1 percent of all ROTC cadets in the nation.

Once commissioned, officers can choose to go on active duty or reserve National Guard. For Lugo, the choice was clear.

"I like the concept of the National Guard and going when you are needed," he said.

Beginning in May, Lugo will travel to West Virginia every month for six months for drill training. He will also train in Fort Sill, Okla., and Fort Huachuca, Ariz. When he finishes, he will be ready to function as a fully qualified military intelligence officer for his unit in West Virginia.

Until then, he will continue with the Fort Worth fire and police departments.

"I think everyone has a passion or a drive to do something," he said. "It's what they're wired to do. It's what their purpose is. And this is mine."

— Susan M. Slupecki

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