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It has taken him five years to reach the culmination of his educational pursuits. Soon, Trae Walker will be addressed as “sir.” He will be pinned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army as he finishes his time with the ROTC program at Kentucky State University. “It's been a long-time coming, and I am ready for it,” said Walker.
A soon-to-be commissioned ordinance officer and currently serving with the 2nd Battalion, 138th Field Artillery, Walker has spent the better part of five years enhancing his education to become a historian and dedicated leader in the U.S. Army, and the Kentucky National Guard is helping him get there.
“As a kid, I was never taught about the importance of financial freedom in school and the true importance of obtaining scholarships to help pay for my education. After our former Veterans Affairs Liaison, Mr. DeMarcus Hopson, started working with Cadet Command and the University of Kentucky for better opportunities for us here at K-State through the ROTC program - I considered making the commitment but didn't follow through initially,” explained Walker.
Upon enlisting in the National Guard in 2017, Walker still had several semesters left to complete his degree program at Kentucky State University. He knew taking a year off to complete Basic Training and Advanced Individual Training were well worth the sacrifice because of the benefits that would follow. “I needed a way to pay for school, and I also needed the discipline to help me focus,” said Walker.
As a Soldier and student, Walker was eligible to use state and federal tuition assistance programs to help with his education.
“I was in a financial bind and couldn’t completely pay for school. I attended a meeting about the Guard and ROTC. That's where I met Mr. Hopson, Sgt. 1st Class Jessie Thomas, Mr. Allen Back, and Staff Sgt. Howeidy Williams. They gave such a convincing presentation; I was ready to join halfway through,” he said.
“I initially did not join to be a patriot. It was more like a deal - I serve - you pay for school. You know. It was not until I finished training and joined the ROTC program upon my return to the school that my reason for serving became more about the duty to my country over the financial benefit,” said Walker.
In fact, Thomas remembered Walker was eager to join and had a flood of questions about this obligation.
“I talked to Walker at least four times a day, answered questions, and presented information for him to research and think about. I remember he wanted to be really sure he was making the right decision, and as his recruiter, it was my job to guide him,” Thomas noted.
Walker’s family also supported his decision to join the military, and they look to him for inspiration.
“As a kid growing up from humble beginnings in Detroit, my dreams to be successful seemed unattainable. But because I persevered and pressed beyond the odds, I was able to make it to K-State and pursue my undergrad degree. Come May (2021), I will be the first in my family to obtain a college degree. That means more to me than anything,” Walker confessed.
The oldest of three children, Walker himself, grew up in a supportive home and accordingly helped lead his siblings to conquer stringent education paths. "I knew we needed to be our best to compete in this world, and education is the way,” he explained.
When asked why he chose the Guard, Walker replied, “It became clear that the Guard was my calling so that I could support my family, obtain an education, and contribute to serving our country. I have always been tough, but the military gave me the needed motivation to prove myself and show my little sisters they can do anything they put their minds to. Culturally, my community often sees the military as a last resort, in particular, something that is out of our league. I want to help change that.”
After a difficult, yet careful decision to take a break from school, Walker enlisted as a petroleum supply specialist overseeing the unit's use of petroleum.
“At first, I saw this position as a glorified gas station attendant, but I realized no military mode of transportation could move without me, not one, and I thought that was pretty cool,” he shared.
Walker used his job training as an opportunity to learn all he could about working with others and perfecting leadership relationships at all levels.
“I was the go-to guy after a while,” he said. “As a Cadet in the Kentucky Guard, there is a heightened sense of responsibility to both my education and military obligations. Most Cadets are not service members and only have obligations to the ROTC program. However, my duty comes in a triad - school, Guard, and ROTC. Each comes with its own set of challenges and demands, leaving little room for mistakes. I continue to find balance to ensure that each mission and assignment has my best effort and I complete the task to the highest level. This is extremely important to me,” Walker explained.
Along with his other commitments, Walker is also member of the PSI PSI Chapter of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc., the Student Ambassadors League 24, History Club, and Frankfort’s Future Leaders Association.
Walker said he has an incredibly unique leadership position that many in the ROTC program will not experience. Kentucky State University hosts a satellite ROTC program for the main campus program at the University of Kentucky. Walker serves as the Alpha Company commander at the University of Kentucky and as the commander at the Kentucky State University campus.
“It is been both challenging and rewarding to be in leadership positions at both campuses. My training in the Guard has greatly influenced and shaped me into the leader that I am today. I can successfully function while understanding that no matter what exhaustion or stress I am currently experiencing, I have to keep trucking on to accomplish what is necessary because tomorrow will always be a new day for opportunity,” he said.
Immediately after completing his bachelor’s degree, Walker plans to pursue a Master’s in History.
“The more I learned about the military, the more I realized the critical need for training in historical contexts that support and drive diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives within our ranks. I believe my training as a historian will benefit my future missions and assignments. I want to use it to build a more inclusive and welcoming service,” Walker said.
His goal is to use his educational trajectory to help push his military career. Walker mentioned he plans to complete a minimum of 20 years of services in uniform.
With that dream in mind, Walker most certainly has the laurels to help him achieve that aspiration. Leaders in the 138th Fires Brigade have taken notice of Cadet Walker. They vouch for his leadership and work as a Soldier and the respect he has earned in the battalion. His former First Sgt., Ramon Perales, of the 2nd-138th FSC acknowledges, “Walker is a go-getter and can be trusted with any task he is given.”
As a Cadet at Kentucky State University, Walker has helped foster a new sense of student leadership on campus by developing programming, leadership initiatives in the Whitney Young Honors College, and of course, ROTC recruitment activities. Capt. Lance Vandaniker, Associate Professor of Leadership, said, “I never have to worry about the team’s plan with Walker on the job. He is resilient and focused.”
Walker works directly with his peers and professors to develop opportunities for his fellow students and the community. “He is always at the top of his game and never needs directions twice. As Dean, I deal with students from all walks of life as well as learning styles. It is rare and refreshing when a student leader has the drive to grow without reminder,” said Dr. Erin Gilliam, Dean of the Whitney M. Young Honors College.
Walker recognizes those that have mentored him along the way.
“I am where I am because of the people who came before me and those who have guided and coached me to this point. If it were not for their support and tough conversations, I can honestly say I would not be this far along,” explained Walker.
Cadet Walker’s leadership and accountably have proven to work and will surly serve him well in his future endeavors both in and out of service. Capt. Nocomis Miner, a 2015 graduate of the Kentucky State University ROTC program, said, “Walker is a rising transformative leader. We will see great and historic achievements from this Soldier.”
He knows his calling is sending him to a challenging job of leading current and future soldiers. Above all, Trae Walker embraces the challenges to be the best version of himself to help make a difference in the military and in the lives of those with whom he comes in contact.
1st Lt. Zach Lepley, Assistant Professor of Military Science, applauded Walker's ability to build relationships. “He is one of a kind. I have watched him build relationships with younger cadets to teach and guide them for our missions.”
Dr. J.C. Gregory, Director of Military Student Affairs & Assistant Professor in the School of Public Administration, added, “Walker represents what a lot of people talk about but do not possess, and that is grit. His integrity and perseverance, which accompany the grit, sets him apart amongst his peers. I expect great things from this young man.”
Gregory is a retired Army lieutenant colonel whose his last assignment was the Deputy Assistant Chief of Staff, Reserve Component Directorate, Cadet Command, Fort Knox, and has first-hand knowledge of the moving parts of the national ROTC program.
“I honestly believe Walker has helped change the narrative concerning HBCU satellite programs and their viability. He is a shining example of what comes from Cadet Command’s investment in HBCUs. When I retired and came to KSU, I did not know if this was for me, but Walker helped remind me that I was not done - I needed to be here to mentor young leaders like him,” Gregory said.
Walker credits Kentucky State University with changing his life for the better as well.
“For sure, my family, military and educational experiences, as well as mentorship, have all shaped me to be the person and leader I am today. I hold these experiences near to my heart and will forever be grateful for the lessons I have learned,” Walker said. “Being an active student helped inspire me and motivated me to always be approachable. There is nothing like the HBCU experience. I will never forget my time at K-State.”
“There is no ceiling to the accomplishments that I will make. Watch out world; here I come.”
About Army ROTC
Army ROTC is one of the best leadership courses in the country and is part of your college curriculum. Through classes and field training, Army ROTC provides you with the tools to become an Army Officer without interfering with your other classes. ROTC also provides you with discipline and money for tuition while enhancing your college experience.
Army ROTC offers pathways to becoming an Army Officer for high school students, current active duty Soldiers, and for current National Guard and Army Reserve Soldiers through the Simultaneous Membership Program.