Growing up in Satellite Beach, Fla., Kayleigh Barrows was no stranger to the military lifestyle. Both her mother and father were officers in the U.S. Air Force and her brother currently serves as an officer in the Air Force, but she had no desire to join the military; at least that’s what she thought.
Applying for a ROTC scholarship in 2011 was just a way to help fund college and help in her pursuit of becoming a collegiate athlete, she said. But Barrows soon realized that she had a hidden passion for the military.
“In high school I never did ROTC, in middle school never did it,” said Barrows. “I always made fun of those people.”
At 1 p.m. Tuesday, May 12, Barrows will become one of those people when she is sworn in as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force with her squadron looking on at UCF’s Classroom 2 Building.
But, the journey to becoming a lieutenant hasn’t been an easy one for Barrows. Her dreams of becoming a swimmer at the collegiate level were short-lived, and her ROTC scholarship would be taken away as a result of her poor academic standing at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J.
“I was a computer science major, in ROTC, and had 8 swim practices a week,” said Barrows. “It was extremely overwhelming, I was 19 years old, home sick, and academics were super hard.”
It wasn’t until she was sent home in spring of 2012 that she realized how much she had enjoyed ROTC. “I think I thrive in a disciplined environment,” said Barrows. “I missed the camaraderie, the discipline, the same schedule. It was hard to be away from it.” Devastated to be out of the program for an extended period of time, Barrows decided to try again. She attended Eastern Florida State College and then Valencia College in hopes of raising her GPA and getting back into ROTC.
In the spring of 2013, Barrows was admitted into UCF through Direct Connect, a program that guarantees students admission to UCF when they earn an associate degree from one of the partner colleges. Barrows was able to get back into ROTC fulltime. Since then, she has taken on a number of leadership roles, even holding the highest ranking as a cadet in ROTC: Wing Commander. Wing Commanders are responsible for supervising the training of more than 180 cadets and making sure everyone completes their assigned jobs.
“It was hard to make a comeback but I wouldn’t change a single thing that happened,” said Barrows. “The ROTC program at UCF has been a very rewarding experience and has given me the confidence I need to succeed in all other aspects of my life.”
Barrows is scheduled to report to Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter, S.C., on May 11, 2016, where she has been assigned the job of aircraft maintenance. In the meantime she plans to spend as much time as possible with her family, which still calls Satellite Beach home. As for the military, she’s a proud member now.
“At my private ceremony, my dad was able to give me the oath of office, and it still feels extremely surreal,” she said. “I still can’t believe it; I dug myself out of the hole and was able to graduate on time.”