Unity man gets top ROTC honors at Virginia Military Institute
Two severe injuries on both knees derailed Alec Hoopes’ football career with the Greater Latrobe Wildcats and dashed any hopes of playing in college. But it set him on a path that led him to be named the nation’s top-ranked senior ROTC cadet.
The hard work and dedication that continued as he entered the ROTC program at Virginia Military Institute has paid off as Hoopes captured first place on the Army’s national ROTC Order of Merit list of seniors, which was announced by the U.S. Army Cadet Command.
“It was pretty surprising. I was not really expecting it at all. There were a lot of people in the competition,” said Hoopes, 22, of Unity.
Hoopes topped 5,527 seniors on the Order of Merit list, 1,106 of whom earned the designation as Distinguished Military Graduate.
The seniors were ranked by Army Cadet Command based at Fort Knox, Ky., based on several criteria, including grade point average, strong performance on the Army’s physical fitness test, college athletic participation and their performance during college ROTC training and advanced camp at Fort Knox. The advanced camp is a required summer training program for cadets who will be commissioned.
“His performance (in ROTC) has exceeded everything we could expect. He has a very grounded personality and a great sense of leadership. He brings everyone together,” Sean Cook, operations officer with VMI’s Army ROTC, said in a statement.
Hoopes, the son of Jacqueline and Arthur Hoopes, played football and lacrosse and was on the wrestling team in high school. He knew that he not only wanted to be a member of the Reserve Officer Training Corps in college, but, “I wanted to do the full military school.” Hoopes toured schools with strong Army ROTC programs, including military schools such as Norwich University in Northfield, Vt.
“I saw so many opportunities to get involved. There were so many opportunities to lead,” Hoopes said in a VMI announcement of the honor.
At VMI in Lexington, Va., he is the battalion commander — the highest leadership role. He leads more than 900 cadets in the Army ROTC.
“You have to give your intent in a certain way that people can understand it and take it and accomplish what needs to be done,” Hoopes said.
He went to Bolivia in the spring of 2016 as part of a VMI service club, Keydets Without Boarders. The group built self-sustainable eco-latrines in a rural village of Pompoyo, Peru.
He also held rank in the Corps of Cadets and is vice president of investigations at VMI’s Honor court, which is a group of elected cadets that govern VMI’s Corps to adhere to the school’s honor code. In that role, he is responsible for making certain that investigations into allegations of breaches of VMI’s single-sanction honor code are conducted properly.
While at VMI, he went through advanced summer camp for ROTC members and went through a three-week airborne school at Fort Benning, Ga., where he jumped from a plane at about 1,500 feet.
After he is commissioned as a second lieutenant upon graduating in May, Hoopes will be required to do four years on active military duty and plans to remain on active duty an additional four years, rather than serving in the reserve for the second four-year stint. He intends to go into the medical services branch, with environmental engineering as his specialty.
“I really enjoyed my time at VMI. I’m excited to graduate and get commissioned,” Hoopes said.
Pursuing a specialty in environmental engineering was natural for him, since he has long held an interest in biology and his mother is a biology teacher in the Greater Latrobe School District. He wants to become a professional engineer and work for a technology company sometime in the future.
Hoopes said he is not certain if he will make career in the military once his eight years of active duty are completed.
“I think it is a rewarding experience and it gives you the opportunity to serve your country,” he said.
Joe Napsha is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe at 724-836-5252, [email protected] or via Twitter .