AFROTC senior oversees cadets from multiple schools
Senior business major Destin Garst was walking to the Student Recreation Center at Southeast Missouri State University one day early in his sophomore year when he ran into an old friend from high school. Something was different about his friend’s clothes.
Instead of workout clothes, his friend wore an Air Force blues uniform.
“That kind of opened up my eyes from there,” Garst said.
Now two years later, he’s climbed the ranks of Southeast’s Air Force ROTC program and achieved cadet wing commander, the top leadership position for ROTC members. As cadet wing commander, he oversees approximately 75 cadets. Not only is he leading the program at Southeast, but the detachments at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale and John A. Logan College are under his leadership.
Garst’s hard work and accomplishments have worked in his favor. In March 2018, Destin learned he was selected to become a pilot. After graduation this May, he will head to Columbus AFB, Mississippi for two years to complete flight training.
Destin said he went back-and-forth for a long time on if he would join the Air Force, though looking back, it was inevitable he would join. He grew up in a military family. His dad, Mark Garst, graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1988 and retired at Scott Air Force Base in 2013, and both his grandfathers and a couple uncles served in the military.
“My dad always said, ‘There’s the Air Force Academy, there’s enlisted, there’s ROTC, there’s Officer Training School (OTS), there’s all these different routes to join the military,’” Garst said. “I kind of initially was going to figure my own thing out.”
Garst’s father encouraged all of his kids to consider the military as a career, but he said he felt Destin had the attributes and character to succeed in the service.
“It’s the kind of lifestyle that suits him,” Mark Garst said about his son.
All the leadership positions in AFROTC are selected through an application process, but Garst originally did not apply to be the cadet wing commander before his senior year. He wasn’t sure how the dynamic of taking classes at Southeast while the main detachment is at Southern Illinois would play out. He ended up being offered the position and accepted after talking with the advisors about working around the distance and traveling.
“I think he's humble about it, I don't think he [went into it] in with a big ego, which is the right approach,” his father said. “He is learning leadership through this process, which I think is great for him.”
Since joining AFROTC, Garst said the program and the university have worked well together to cut down the amount of days they travel to SIU. The classes get smaller the further a cadet gets into the program, so the cadets from all three schools combine into one class. But Garst had other class conflicts that keep him from travelling to SIU for his AFROTC classes. Not only is AFROTC working with him outside of the class to catch up on material, Southeast installed video conference call technology in Dempster Hall to save travel time for other cadets.
Garst said the distance from the other AFROTC detachments is the toughest part of being in a high leadership role because there’s a lot of things he had to miss out on.
“I wish I could have more time in the days to really give more to the program,” Destin said. “We have all of these outside events to give back to the public, and I wish I could have more face time with everyone at Southern Illinois.”
However, his role of overseeing all the training and extracurricular activities has had more positive points than negative. He said he gets to see the ins and outs of the program and see how hard all of the cadets work to succeed. Garst said the minimum AFROTC requirements are lab once a week, physical training and class, but many of the candidates participate in the extracurricular activities they plan. Seeing how hard the cadets underneath him work inspires him to make himself better.
Garst said his wing commander, Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Anderson, asked him what Garst was doing as the cadet wing commander. His response was training leaders, but Anderson told him he was training his replacement.
“I want my replacement to get at it and do the best they can, so I have to do the same thing for them,” Garst said.
Destin’s hard work and accomplishments have worked in his favor. In March 2018, Destin learned he was selected to become a pilot. After graduation this May, he will head to Columbus AFB, Mississippi for two years to complete flight training. He hopes to fly fighter bombers, but he may have to fly heavies if the Air Force needs those pilots.
“If I’m not mistaken, there’s a huge demand for pilots and the shortage is in fighters,” Garst said. “The F-22 is one of the newer ones. The F-35 is the brand new one, but the F-22 is also top notch.”
Mark Garst believes his son is more than ready for flight school because of his ROTC preparations.
“What I've seen is he's gone through these past three years doing this as he started to flourish with them,” he said. “Each year, he's just improved, but when he's had some setbacks, he's learned from it, and it didn't discourage him. He just kept going. So I think that's been very beneficial for him.”