Vanness Zhu

Vanness Zhu has attended Army and Navy Academy since 7th grade. He’s risen through the ranks to become one of the top leaders during his senior year. Here, he shares some words of wisdom to help guide new Cadets through ANA’s leadership program.

As a new freshman, you have two immediate choices when you step onto campus for the first time:

  1. To simply get by until graduation
  2. To make your way up the chain of command.

If you choose the latter, read on.

Adjusting to the system may seem daunting at first, but as the days go by you’ll find that it’s actually very easy to understand. Right now, you are probably looking up at the leaders of the senior class, be it the Battalion Staff in front of the formation or your Company Commander, and wondering what it takes to become one of them. They got to where they are now because of the work the put in over their years in high school.

From this point forward, it is vital that you make yourself stand out from the rest of your class.

Start now by putting effort toward your studies and military training. A high GPA will increase your chances of both getting a leadership position and gaining admission into your university of choice, in addition to making your parents proud. The next step is to always make sure that you look your best on and off campus. Keeping your uniform in line, acting correctly in formation, and earning merits will all be proof to your superiors that you can handle yourself and even guide others.

That brings me to my third point: to bring as much attention to your abilities as a leader as possible. Doing everything mentioned above will certainly boost your chances, but they don’t mean much if you are only a set of numbers. The leaders and staff need to see you as a Cadet capable of leadership. You will need to become as involved with school affairs as possible, especially those of the JROTC department. Demonstrate initiative by joining clubs, volunteering for the school, and taking charge whenever given the opportunity. This cycle will hold true for the remainder of your time at the academy. When you see a spot for a position open, seize the opportunity, knowing that you are well qualified for the job.


Junior year will be the most important in determining your future.

All eyes will now be on you for one final year long test before you are given your senior position. Competition will be heightened at this stage and it is more important than ever to make yourself stand out. I can’t stress that enough; seek out and take any chance to show off your abilities. It will also serve you quite well to figure out which position suits your interests the most and making sure that your goals are well known to both the corps and adult chain of command.

Every senior position is overseen by one or more adults. Each Battalion Staff member works for a certain faculty member as well as the Commandant of Cadets and every CO answers to his TAC Officer. Find out who these people are and make sure that they know your name.

As you near the end of your junior year, there is only one step left to take, and that is to score as well as possible in the Officer Candidate Course. This is what ties everything together and can make or break your chances of getting the position you want. This month long course will include almost daily uniform inspections and nearly every other junior will be on their best behavior, and it will conclude with a few days at Camp Pendleton. During these days, you will face the physical part of OCC, which includes various obstacle courses and a 5 K run. I strongly advise you to do everything in your power to earn the maximum number of OCC points. OCC can be best described as the SAT exam but for your senior position instead of college.

When the course is over, you will have done everything that you can, and you can only wait and see who will become what. Not all of you will get the position you want, but regardless I wish you all the best of luck.

Special thanks to Cadet Vanness Zhu for writing this guest post.