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Two Air Force ROTC cadets consider life after being commissioned

Photo: Evelyn Soon and Gwen Clement will be commissioned as second lieutenants in the United States Air Force after they graduate in May. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Will it be Texas or California? Japan or Qatar? Time will tell where Evelyn Soon and Gwen Clement will be living and working after they graduate from Northeastern in May.

Though they took different routes to get to Northeastern, Soon and Clement’s paths intersected at the university, where they enrolled as cadets in the Reserve Officer Training Corps. But those roads will diverge again as Clement gets dispatched to a military hospital and Soon waits to get called for active duty as an intelligence officer for the United States Air Force.

What is certain is that the next chapter of their lives will start on May 18. That’s when Clement and Soon will take their Oath of Office at Faneuil Hall in Boston and be commissioned as second lieutenants in the Air Force.  

They say that they’re literally counting down the days to when they will get commissioned.

“I’ve actually told my extended family, ‘don’t get tickets to my graduation, come for my commissioning,’” says Clement, a nursing student whose father spent 20 years as a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force. “It’s more important to me that they’re at my commissioning than my college graduation.”

“My parents both came from nothing. My mom was a Vietnam War refugee. To see how much America was able to provide for them, it made me feel like this was a great opportunity to give back.”

Evelyn Soon ROTC cadet

A dozen Northeastern students participate in the Air Force ROTC program. Half of those students are women, including Clement and Soon. In the spring, they will join the ranks of the more than 200,000 women who serve in the active-duty military today, which is more than at any other point in the history of the United States.

Soon says that she is keenly aware of the challenges facing women in the military, including the difficulty of balancing military and family life. Forty-six percent of military families cited time away from their spouses and children as their top concern about military life in a survey conducted in 2017 by Blue Star Families, a nonprofit organization that supports servicemembers and their families.

“I think it makes me anxious a little bit, but it’s still very exciting,” Soon says. “Just the opportunities and the training that you’ll get regardless of all that, it still will be a great experience no matter what. And you ultimately have the decision of whether to stay or leave at the end of the day.”

Clement and Soon say that they’re looking forward to finding out what the future holds for them. Soon, a first generation American citizen who is pursuing a combined bachelors and masters degree in chemical engineering and engineering management, says that she was drawn to the Air Force by the job security, financial stability, and professional training.

“My parents both came from nothing,” she says. “My mom was a Vietnam War refugee. To see how much America was able to provide for them, it made me feel like this was a great opportunity to give back.”

Clement says that she wants to join the Air Force to serve her country and to help people like her father recover from combat injuries.

“I was used to moving around. I was used to the military lifestyle,” she says. “So when I was in high school I decided that if I could apply what I studied to the Air Force, then it was worth a try.”

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