NAU seniors Renée and Matt Ingerson haven’t taken the easy route through college.

Before the break of dawn, Army ROTC drills and exercises have pulled these married cadets out of bed. Competitions and tests required the sacrifice of free time. Academically, they’ve each completed 26 credit hours of military and leadership courses over four years in addition to the typical student’s course load.

Matt and Renée Ingerson

Army ROTC cadets Matt and Renée Ingerson

While their future paths in the military eventually may veer in different directions, the Ingersons are together in their desire to earn a degree and serve their country.The couple, both on the path to a career in public service, met as freshmen ROTC cadets. Renée is majoring in political science and Matt in criminal justice. They will graduate in May just before their first wedding anniversary and shortly thereafter commission into the Army as officers, along with 10 other NAU cadets.

“I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do in college or in the military, and then I discovered this wonderful thing called ROTC where I could do both,” Renée said. “I knew I wanted to do a job where I would leave a mark.”

Watching westerns with his dad instilled a clear sense of right and wrong in Matt, and it eventually led to his interest in law enforcement and the military.

“My grandfather and uncles all served,” Matt said. “I knew someone else did it for me so I felt like I should serve for those after me.”

Lt. Col. Glenn Johnson, professor of military science at NAU, said the Army ROTC program, now in its 30th year, provides students with leadership and management skills that set them up for success. He said the Ingersons have received multiple honors during their time at NAU.

“Mr. and Mrs. Ingerson are superior cadets who are about to embark on a successful military career,” Johnson said. “They possess the values, skills and capabilities to be truly respected leaders in the Army and will undoubtedly leave a positive mark on their soldiers, their unit and the nation.”

Renée was selected as a Distinguished Military Graduate for ranking in the top 20 percent of more than 5,000 cadets in the nation and received the Batallion Commander Award as a top senior course cadet. She served as captain of coed teams that won the statewide Ranger Challenge and the Sandhurst Military Skills Competition at West Point last month.

Matt has received multiple athlete awards, the ROTC Honors award and the Cadet Scholar Award. He was a member of the Ranger Challenge team for three years and serves as a core leader of the battalion.

But for the Ingersons, it isn’t about the individual. Renée points out that every member of the team makes sacrifices and none of them could accomplish what they do without each other.

“The team had to take time out of their personal and academic lives to train and put their best effort forward,” she said. “Early mornings, Fridays, Saturdays—it consumes a lot of people’s lives—and we all step it up. This is a different college experience than most.”

Teamwork takes the prize

As captain of NAU’s self-proclaimed underdog Army ROTC team entering its first Sandhurst Military Skills Competition at West Point last month, Renée Ingerson was told to find the easiest way to get the team through each challenge in the obstacle course and skills test.

They had a week to explore the course but little guidance on what they’d face. What they knew for certain was that they’d compete against teams from all over the world and try their skills against military academies that train ‘round the clock.

“As an ROTC cadet, we are always intimidated by the West Point cadets,” Renée said. “They are living the military training 24/7. We expect we will be a little bit behind, but competing this year was definitely an eye-opener. It built a lot of confidence in the leadership abilities that we had going in.”

The team finished first among eight teams representing senior Army ROTC units nationwide and 15th overall.