CAMP ZAMA, Japan – At the start of the school year, one of Charlotte Patterson’s peers gave her a compliment on her being a leader that the high school senior said made her week.
The simple gesture sparked an idea in Patterson, who serves as president of the student body executive board at Zama Middle High School. It reminded her of how taking just a few seconds to let someone know you care can make a lasting impact.
“I feel like we, as a society, might have lost touch of how important it is to say, ‘You look really nice today, your hair looks good, how are you doing?” she said, pointing to distractions such as social media. “I think we get [so] caught up in how we see ourselves that sometimes we forget the people next to us.”
As part of an effort to spread that reminder, Patterson decided to compete in the Boys & Girls Clubs’ Military Youth of the Year competition, which provides contestants a platform to promote a topic that matters to them.
Earlier this year, Patterson, 17, whose parents are Chief Warrant Officer 3 Phillip and Sarah Pakizer, won the local competition here and plans to compete in the Asia regional this month.
“I realized it’s the small things that really make a difference,” she said of what she wants to promote. “You don’t see them, but they’re still there and they can make someone smile.”
Heading to West Point
A well-traveled military child, Patterson, who was born in Austin, Texas, has also lived in Alabama, Kansas and North Carolina.
Her next stop will be West Point, New York, to attend the U.S. Military Academy.
About a month after she won the military youth competition, Patterson found out that she was accepted to the academy.
She said she is eager to meet a diverse group of students from across the United States, something that she has grown accustomed to by living in a military community.
“The people I have met [along the way] are some of the most amazing, kind and accepting people,” Patterson said. “Being in a community where everyone moves and comes from everywhere is really special. I have always really loved that about the Army.”
Patterson, who has high aspirations to one day become the U.S. secretary of state, hopes the academy will teach her the leadership skills required for a rewarding military and government career.
“Being an officer opens up a lot of leadership positions and [helps explain] how the inner workings of the government happen, which are very intricate,” she said.
In her upcoming studies, Patterson would like to learn more about American politics and counterterrorism.
She is also drawn to international diplomacy and finds the balance of problem solving while forging and maintaining partnerships interesting.
“I think it’s a very tricky thing to do and I love a challenge,” she said.
From running to government work
Even though she has grand goals, Patterson is confident to tackle whatever is in front of her, said Hannah Maza, director of the Camp Zama Youth Center.
“She has such a good demeanor,” Maza said. “You never see her stressed, you never see her worry. You give her a task and she will get it done.”
Maza, who was one of the judges in the local youth competition, said she wasn’t surprised Patterson was chosen to attend the academy.
Even as a teenager, Patterson is already well-disciplined, said Maza, who looks forward to seeing her progress as a leader.
“I think that we need more women in leadership positions in the military and in the government,” Maza said. “I think her goals are high, but anything is possible because she is very determined.”
Patterson initially turned her attention to government ambitions following a sports injury. An avid runner, Patterson was once a captain of the Zama cross country and track teams until she hurt her hip in the fall of 2020.
“I got injured and couldn’t run and I needed an outlet,” she said.
She joined the student council and worked with others to revamp a handbook and presentation to help familiarize new students to the local community.
And while social media is the go-to for almost every teenager, Patterson sometimes prefers a traditional way of communication. During special occasions or for helping with student events, she likes to show teachers and staff her appreciation with handwritten notes.
“I make sure to write them and say ‘thank you,’” she said. “Just so they know that someone cares about them and cares about what they did.”
Personal displays of compassion like these are what she hopes to see more often.
“I want to get small kindnesses back,” she said. “It’s not much effort to do. It’s five seconds and you might have made someone’s whole day.”