As a freshman, Brett Brustad joined Braden River High School’s junior ROTC and its drill team.
Although he considered quitting the program to have more time for himself, he was “too scared to quit.”
“I was scared people were going to get mad at me if I quit,” Brustad said.
Four years later, Brustad doesn’t regret his decision to stay in JROTC. The program has inspired him to pursue a military career with the dream of becoming an Air Force pilot.
Brustad, a senior, is one step closer to becoming an Air Force pilot with the nomination from U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan to attend either the U.S. Air Force Academy or the U.S. Naval Academy.
Brustad said it felt good to receive Buchanan’s nomination.
“It doesn’t guarantee me (entry) into the academy, but without him, I would not have been able to even try to attend,” he said. “I know he only gives it to a certain amount of people and a lot of people applied. I’m thankful he gave one of them to me.”
Brustad hopes to be accepted into the Air Force Academy, but he also wouldn’t mind being accepted into the Naval Academy as long as he’s able to serve his country.
“The planes are cooler and faster, and it benefits my country,” he said. “The country has done a lot for me, and I feel like I need to pay it back.”
Brustad wants to become a pilot or pilot aviation mechanic. He already has his pilot license after his dad, who is a certified flight instructor, took him for his first flight when he was 13. He started taking lessons soon after.
“He kind of instilled the love for flying in me,” Brustad said. “I love the freedom of it. It’s like driving a car but faster and another axis is involved. … It’s like a rollercoaster I have control of.”
Brustad’s overall experience with JROTC was positive. He said the program helped him figure out his future. Program leaders helped him find scholarships, fill out college applications and more.
“Without them, I probably wouldn’t have my life together,” Brustad said. “I’d probably still not know what I was going to do when I graduate.”
Brustad said the program wouldn’t be what it is without the people in charge and other JROTC members.
Brustad led the program through its formal inspection Feb. 10 where a representative of the national JROTC program came to the school to quiz cadets on JROTC, examine their uniforms and more. The Braden River High JROTC program sustained its gold star, meaning it scored higher than 95% of the other programs.
“We’ve been working for it for a while, and the staff deserves more than I do,” Brustad said.
After his freshman year, Brustad continued with the drill team and also became a member of both the raider team and leadership team starting his sophomore year.
Brustad said the raiders team was more physically demanding but worth the experience.
“I went home tired every day, but it was worth it,” he said. “Everyone else there went home tired every day. You kind of joined a brotherhood, even if half the team is female.”
Over the years, Brustad has seen himself become more confident and efficient. His leadership roles have taught him how to work better with other people.
JROTC is all about structure and discipline, but every Friday before a drill competition, Brustad and teammates would let loose. The drill team members would get their uniforms together, have dinner together and hang out together.
“We play loud music and would be a nuisance to society,” Brustad said.
Old rock tunes would blast from speakers, but ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” would usually get them to party.
If Brustad isn’t accepted in the U.S. Air Force Academy or U.S. Naval Academy, he plans to attend the University of West Florida because it’s close to two Air Force bases. He would then try to apply for the Air Force Academy again.