Hickory High JROTC Cadet to attend The Citadel

Hickory High JROTC Cadet to attend The Citadel
JROTC cadet Citadel

A Dream Comes True

Hickory High JROTC Cadet

to attend The Citadel

 

Dylan Avann Cunningham, 17, a cadet with the Hickory High School Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) since he was a freshman, is closing out his high school career with a “dream come true.”  Cunningham has been accepted to The Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina.

“At The Citadel, they want you to succeed to be a better person—whether civilian or military,” said Cunningham. “I realize it won’t be easy, as there are some who just can’t make it through ‘Hell Week’ with the intense physical training. But I’ve been training for this opportunity since the ninth grade and I am ready for the challenge.

“The JROTC at Hickory High has certainly been a major influence on my preparation. Under the leadership of the Army JROTC instructors, Lieutenant Colonel Channing Moose, U.S. Army (Ret), and 1SG Johncarlo Lewis, U.S. Army (Ret), I discovered how to become a better leader, a better citizen and a better American,” said Cunningham. “Student, athlete, and leader…JROTC provides a foundation to develop and strengthen all of these characteristics with integrity at the center core.

“I’ve always known that I wanted to join the military, I just didn’t know which direction I would take,” said Cunningham. “My dad, James Cunningham, who raised me on his own as a single dad, served in the U.S. Army. My grandfather was in the U.S. Air Force and I have several other relatives who have served in the U.S. military.  My dad didn’t get the chance to go to college, and in part, this opportunity at The Citadel is also for my dad. We are very pro-military and I am looking forward to extending the military tradition,” said Cunningham.

“The Citadel is a very strict school—a structure which I greatly respect. My JROTC training will help with a smooth transition as the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) is required on campus and all five branches are offered, including: Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and the Coast Guard. I will continue with the Army,” said Cunningham.

Cunningham plans to study for a double-major in Political Science and History, with a minor in Intelligence. Upon graduation, he desires to enter Intelligence while serving in the U.S. Army.  “I really enjoy political science and would like to have a political career after serving a minimum of 20 years in the military,” said Cunningham.

While a student at Hickory High, Cunningham also took classes at Lenoir-Rhyne University and studied online with Catawba Valley Community College. “I will graduate with 19 college credit hours which will help to provide an academic jump this fall.

“I just have to say, if it had not been for the stability of instruction and the constant push from my JROTC instructors at Hickory High, none of this would be happening,” said Cunningham.  “Yes, I’ve always wanted the military career, and I could have selected to enlist after graduation; but now I have the opportunity to attend The Citadel, the Military College of South Carolina!

“When I first started out in the JROTC program, I had a stutter. Today, with leadership training and confidence-building, I have stepped out of my comfort zone and speak to groups. Between the JROTC structure, and my father’s constant support, I am piecing together the puzzle for my future,” said Cunningham.

A varsity wrestler for the past four years, Cunningham is working to prepare for the physical demands at The Citadel. “I’m not bulky and perhaps I can’t bench press like some bigger guys, but I will be physically in shape when I report this August.”

Reflecting back on his experiences at Hickory High and growing through the JROTC program, Cunningham shared that his greatest memory is the trip to Washington, D.C.  “While there, we worked with the Honor Flight Veterans and I was one of five JROTC cadets to assist 126 war veterans from World War II, as well as the Korean and Vietnam wars. There were 125 males and one female. These veterans were flown in to D.C.—viewing for the first time the memorials of the wars in which they served,” said Cunningham.  “There were veterans who saw the names of their friends who died at Iwo Jima.  In one case, a veteran viewed the names of a close friend and his friend’s son—both who gave their lives in Vietnam.”

Having moved 13 times in his childhood, attending nine schools before the fourth grade, Cunningham readily admits it was tough to make friends: “We had to move for family reasons, but the constant love from my Dad gave me the stability I needed. I am also close to my brother as well as my grandparents, who reside in Gastonia.  And I am close to my dad’s girlfriend, Marcy Scott.”

According to Lieutenant Colonel Channing Moose, Dylan Cunningham quickly distinguished himself within the Tornado Battalion all four years of high school, and he quickly learned, grew, and developed into the top student at Hickory High JROTC. 

“During his high school career, Dylan has performed as a solid, dependable student, able to take charge and lead from the front,” said Moose. “He is also a team-player and knows how to serve as a leader and follower.  He is a humble achiever who strives for excellence and continues to improve.  He understands the importance of taking the initiative and looking for the implied tasks; he has proven himself very dependable and trustworthy.  Dylan knows how to accept developmental feedback and criticism and improve himself personally and professionally.

“He is a tremendous asset to Hickory High and the JROTC program.  Some of Dylan’s most notable leadership accomplishments I have observed include serving as the HHS JROTC Cadet Battalion Commander, leading our unit accreditation inspection resulting in us achieving Honor Unit with Distinction for the first time in six years, leading over 25 service events honoring veterans in NC, CO, UT, and WY, organizing and running two community blood drives, conducting over 100 color guard events at the local, state, college, and professional levels, and much more.

“Dylan distinguishes himself academically and maximizes college opportunities by taking the toughest courses at two local colleges. Additionally, after serving as battalion commander, he served as mentor and senior cadet to many other students and the new battalion leadership, helping to train and to develop them to excel,” said Moose. 

“Dylan realizes the importance of giving back to an organization and ensuring others are prepared to lead when he graduates.  Dylan consistently exhibits values such as loyalty, respect to all, and commitment.  He is a natural leader who will definitely be a successful, outstanding college student,” added Moose. 

The Citadel is a landmark in Charleston, SC—and is noted for its educational reputation as well as its rich history.  Founded in 1842, The Citadel is best known nationally for its Corps of Cadets which draws students from about 45 states and a dozen countries.

Now Dylan Cunningham has the opportunity to become a part of that rich history. “My father always told me that I could be whatever I wanted. And I have always looked up to the late President Ronald Reagan—whom I believe set the standard as a President. I believe he was the best President we have ever had.  I may not necessarily follow in his exact footsteps, but I hope to follow in service to country. I am looking forward to continuing my education at The Citadel and serving in the United States Army,” said Cunningham. “I’ve had some great mentors in my journey—and going forward, I hope that I can be a great influence for others.”

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(More photos on the Hickory Public Schools Facebook page) Photo ID: Lt. Col. Moose with Cadet Dylan Cunningham
--Article and photos by Beverly Snowden, HPS director of communications

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