Officer, newly commissioned at GCU, carries on family's military tradition

Taliyah Calloway receives her first salute as an officer from father Carl Calloway during the Grand Canyon University Army ROTC Commissioning Ceremony.

Seventeen Army, three Air Force cadets receive lieutenant bars

Photos by Ralph Freso / Slideshow

As the daughter of military parents, Taliyah Calloway felt that two years in Grand Canyon University’s ROTC program was too long.

“My junior year was definitely my toughest year because (after two years) I was here. I didn't want to leave (school), but at the same time I still wanted to leave,” Calloway said.

Because her parents were stationed all over the world, she never spent more than two years at the same school.

But Calloway had a talk with herself: "You can toughen it out. It's fine,” she told herself.

She never felt as happy with her decision as she was Friday morning when the Army commissioned her and 16 fellow cadets to lead enlisted personnel as second lieutenants during GCU’s Army ROTC Commissioning Ceremony at Ethington Theatre.

Cadets take the oath of office.

“I feel very satisfied with it,” Calloway said proudly after she and the cadets received a gold bar distinction on their uniforms during a pinning ceremony. “Although it was hard, I think the hardness and pushing through that is actually what makes me more satisfied than actually finishing here.”

Carl Calloway said he and Taliyah’s mother, LaRussia, never pressured their daughter into staying at GCU. They visited the campus after serving in Korea, and living in El Paso provided some proximity.

GCU ROTC cadet Denzel Beecham performs the national anthem.

But, “she made the decision herself, so to see her actually go through with it was a great thing,” her father said.

Calloway, who earned her bachelor’s degree in public health and will be commissioning as a transportation corps officer, would like to pass along the military lineage to her children so they can sample the “amazing life” her parents gave to her.

University Pastor, Dean of Students and Vice President of Student Affairs Dr. Tim Griffin addresses family and guests of cadets.

“And so that's where the satisfaction lies,” she said. “It lies less in the tradition and more in the way I can raise my kids and give them structure and make sure that they grow up to be respectful, amazing servants, not only of God.”

University Pastor, Dean of Students and Vice President of Student Affairs Dr. Tim Griffin praised the cadets for making “an ultimate level of commitment to the idea of service,” adding that Jesus “modeled that for us” and that service is a fabric of GCU.

Capt. Victor Perez , Army chaplain, served as guest speaker and emphasized three points to the cadets:

  • Create a culture where it is safe for them to be human.
  • Have a plan to see them and hear them.
  • Be a true leader who is not afraid to grab a towel and get your hands dirty.

“Mistrust arises when leaders and subordinates deal with a lack of connection and empathy,” Perez said toward the end of his 26-minute speech.

Newly commissioned officer Jacob Doest gets a kiss from his wife, Sydney.

Commitment also paid off for Conner Weldy, who received his bachelor's degree in marketing and advertising and was determined to serve in the Army.

“I never thought I'd be here,” he said. “It was a gift of God that I'm actually here. I got told ‘no’ five different times where I was trying to join the Army.”

Newly commissioned officer Conner Weldy was inspired by his grandfather to join the military.

With the help of a recruiter, he got into the program and treasured his celebration with family members.

Among them were Weldy’s grandfather, Jim Davis, who served in Korea with the Navy and received several promotions before serving 16 years in the reserves as a lieutenant commander, and his twin brother, Cameron, who enlisted two years after watching his brother develop.

“My grandfather was my whole inspiration for joining,” Weldy said.

His brother, meanwhile, got inspiration from him.

“He (Conner) gave me a lot of guidance when I came into the program,” Cameron said. “He really showed me the way. He let me know what to expect physically, and they push us for the best.”

Family members pin lieutenant bars to cadet Tristen Martin.

Said Weldy of brother Cameron, “In August, he is going to become a contractor cadet, and in two years, he'll be an officer. I can't wait to be here for that.”

In his closing comments, Col. Erich Schneider thanked GCU’s administration for their commitment to elevating the ROTC program, noting this marked the first year the University's Army ROTC reached 100 members.

“This place has a heart for service,” Schneider said.

Little did Zach Hendricks realize that he would get reacquainted with GCU ROTC Coordinator Trish Shipley. As a youth, Hendricks and his family attended Dream City Church, where he and Shipley would sing and dance at the annual Christmas show.

Cadets are honored during the Army ROTC Commissioning Ceremony at Ethington Theatre on Friday.

“I didn’t realize she was the ROTC coordinator when I got here, and she’s basically been the second mother figure in my life,” Hendricks said. “She is there for everyone to lend encouragement, especially during hard times.”

Hendricks earned his bachelor’s degree in Christian ministries and is headed for training in Fort Knox, Kentucky.

Winter White (right) clings to big brother Austin White as he gets pinned with his lieutenant bars.

The other GCU graduates who became 2nd lieutenants in the Army were:

Jacob Doest, bachelor’s degree in Christian ministries. He is endorsed by InFaith to commission as a chaplain candidate in the Army.

Nicholas Astorga, bachelor’s degree in justice studies who will be commissioned as a medical services officer in active duty.

Isabel Prado-Toledo, bachelor’s degree in public health. She is commissioned as an engineering officer in the Army.

Alexa Bradley, bachelor’s degree in health care administration and graduating with a 3.9 grade point average.

Florentino Bedolla, master’s degree in business administration with an emphasis in cybersecurity.

Aaron Avellanoza, bachelor’s degree in health care administration.

Aaron Avellanoza's family members pin his lieutenant bars to his uniform.

Adam Marrone, bachelor’s degree in government with an emphasis in legal studies.

Dawson Buck, bachelor’s degree in government with an emphasis in legal studies.

Austin White, bachelor’s degree in government and will join the Army’s aviation branch. He will head to Fort Novosel (Alabama) in the fall for initial flight training.

Tristen Martin, bachelor’s degree in behavioral science.

Jaden Norris, graduating as a distinguished military graduate with a degree in communication.

Matthew Greymont, bachelor’s degree in behavioral health science.

Dazarian Williams, bachelor’s degree in information technology.

Ruben Ruiz, bachelor’s degree in robotics engineering.

GCU Air Force ROTC cadets Raylie Stewart (left), Gabriel Stewart (second from right) and Alexander Orquiz (right) join Brig. Gen. Jason Rueschhoff after their commissioning. (Contributed photo)

Also, three GCU Air Force ROTC cadets were commissioned into the Air Force in a ceremony Wednesday at Arizona State University's Armstrong Hall:

  • Raylie Stewart
  • Gabriel Stewart
  • Alexander Orquiz

GCU Senior Writer Mark Gonzales can be reached at [email protected]


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