Any military rank is a source of pride, and that includes cadet colonel in JROTC.
Olivia Lyles, a senior at Austin High School in Decatur, became a colonel in her school’s JROTC program in May 2021. She has been an active member of the program since her freshman year.
“I chose JROTC because I did not want any other elective,” Lyles said. However, she did not pick this program for lack of knowledge or direction in her life. As she prepares to graduate May 26, she has her future all mapped out.
Lyles’ plans include getting her bachelor’s in exercise science and wellness from Jacksonville State University, then on to graduate school for a master’s in physical therapy.
However, she also plans on continuing to serve her country in the Alabama National Guard.
Not only has Lyles been active in JROTC she is a well-rounded student. Between varsity cross country and basketball, volunteering in the community, and working as a server at Chili’s, she has also been part of the dual enrollment program with Calhoun Community College. She has maintained a 3.965 grade point average. When she needs downtime you can find her in a gym working out.
Her activities and GPA have gained her a three-year scholarship to JSU. She is ranked in the top 10% of her graduating class.
“JROTC has given me structure in life,” Lyles said. “It has helped me overcome fears, and it makes me a better person, a better leader.
“It gives me discipline to get up, do stuff, get moving.” This mindset will certainly help her in her future career, as well as with the National Guard.
Lyles has a passion to help others, and JROTC has provided many such opportunities. The Austin JROTC students have worked with the Special Olympics in Huntsville, and have laid wreaths at Roselawn Cemetery at Christmas through the “Wreaths Across America” program. The group also participated in the Redstone JROTC Day in 2019, the last time it was held before the pandemic.
Since her freshman year, Lyles has shown leadership skills. She began as a sergeant and quickly became the class leader that year. As a sophomore she rose from a first sergeant to a second lieutenant and platoon leader, leading 20 other cadets.
In her junior year she began as a cadet captain over logistics, and by the end of the year she was pinned as the colonel for the program of 80 students.
Her fondest memories as a cadet include meeting other cadets from other schools at area competitions. Not only did the competitions provide great experience, but she got to “make friends, and exchange ideas.”
Lyles knows JROTC can help young people prepare for future jobs, but “it really is a lot of fun.”