Of Siblings At Rocky Top Battalion
by U.S. Army Sarah Windmueller
Command Public Affairs
April 18, 2023
Family is the tie that binds, and that
bond goes just a little bit farther with the Rocky Top Battalion
at the University of Tennessee – Knoxville. The Army ROTC program
currently has four groups of siblings attending the same school
and working together to become future leaders.
April 7, 2023 - Carson and
Abigail Freeman; Charlie and Gabbi McElyea; Callie and Madison
Allen; and, Seth and Lily Manor are four sets of siblings
who attend the University of Tennessee – Knoxville and are
contracted Cadets with the school's Army ROTC program. (Image
created by USA Patriotism! from U.S. Army photo by Sarah
Windmueller, Cadet Command Public Affairs.)
Lt. Col. Justin Howe, professor of military
science at UTK, attributes this unique environment to a family history
of military service paired with a desire to affect change.
“I think [younger siblings] see their older siblings enjoy what
they’re doing in an environment where they can achieve their goals
and so they make the decision to follow them.”
Call to service
within families is nothing new, with imitation considered the sincerest
form of flattery. Many Cadets routinely choose to follow in the
footsteps of a family member who served, encouraged by prospects
of making a difference while being part of a team with like-minded
Growing up, Abigail and Carson Freeman
constantly heard their parents- especially their mother- encouraging
them to make a difference.
“She always said the military is the easiest
way to do that,” Abigail, a junior majoring in Business Analytics
at UTK, said.
Both parents are also Army ROTC alumnus, who
spoke positively of their college days and the leadership skills
the program instilled into their lives. This made it easy for the
Freeman siblings to decide to lead with Army ROTC.
just always told us leadership skills were something good to have
and you can apply them anywhere,” Abigail said. “We started looking
more into ROTC and leadership and then being an officer and decided
to take that route.”
Abigail was the first to go off to college
– the recipient of a three-year Army ROTC National Scholarship –
and she said she fell in love with the campus and how it just felt
Carson, a freshman majoring in Political Science,
echoes his sister’s sentiment about UTK, adding that he even got
that feeling as a high school sophomore while tagging along on his
sister’s college tour.
He also observed her success within
the ROTC program.
“It always seemed like she was enjoying
it a lot,” Carson said. “I started looking at it my junior year
of high school and became more serious the closer I got to graduation.”
Carson received a four-year Army ROTC National Scholarship and
easily decided on UTK because “it’s the only place that felt like
While neither sibling has a firm idea of what their
future holds just yet, Carson and Abigail recognize their Army careers
could have them either working across the world from each other
or exactly for the same unit.
“It’s crazy how our paths might
cross,” Abigail said.
“Whatever I do, I just hope I make
a difference and affect change in other people’s lives. I, personally,
like helping other people and seeing a change…I think that’s something
all leaders should have – the desire to want to help other people.”
Charlie and Gabbi McElyea’s desire to lead
was influenced by their father’s service in the Navy.
a senior majoring in political science was especially affected as
she watched her dad “go off and do his thing.” She wanted to be
“I’m a natural go-getter, I’m very ambitious, and
I love to lead and be the person that people can come to,” she said.
The moment she walked onto campus and met with the Rocky Top
Battalion, “I just got the best feeling.”
“The Cadre that
I met with and all the Cadets, they just seemed like they were so
invested in their time here and really seeking to get the most out
of it as they could,” she said.
When the time came for Charlie
– equally a go-getter and avid sports fan – to look at schools and
ROTC programs, he, too, searched for that strong bond.
am very close to my siblings and so that was a big weighing factor,”
Charlie, a freshman majoring in business analytics, said. “A lot
of it was the University of Tennessee, which I just got the best
With one sibling at the beginning of their
college and Army ROTC journey, and the other nearing the end, both
Charlie and Gabbi love how their shared interests set each other
up for success.
“I always know she’s got my back with anything
I’m doing,” Charlie said. “I can just go to Gabbi and she’ll give
me the advice that I need to help keep me on track.”
is this year’s Rocky Top Battalion’s Brigade Commander and has added
leadership responsibilities on her plate.
there means I’ll always know I have a friendly face and somebody
that I can just go and decompress with and vent to if I ever need
to,” she said.
As the McElyea’s push forward toward their
careers as future army officers, both are grateful to have each
other and a shared understanding of what the other is experiencing.
“Charlie just gets it,” Gabbi said. “It’s nice to always have
that one person there who understands.”
The Allen sisters, Madison and Callie,
both joined Army ROTC because they felt something was missing from
Madison, a junior majoring in biomedical engineering,
was looking to recover a year of academic and social connection
that had been lost to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I felt like
I was missing something,” Madison said.
“When I got to Tennessee,
I felt like I had a community, I felt like I had friends that were
all wanting to persevere and watch me grow alongside them while
pushing me to grow in my leadership.”
Callie, a freshman,
is contemplating going into nursing. She is naturally shy and was
searching for direction and personal growth.
“Back home I
just didn’t have the right group of friends that would push me to
be a better person and a better leader,” Callie said. “I wanted
to get out of my comfort zone because in nursing you have to lead
and talk to people and be around people all the time…”
the program I feel like I’m getting outside of my comfort zone and
just gaining more skills.”
Studying at the same school is
exciting, but experiencing physical and leadership growth within
Army ROTC together is an added bonus for the sisters.
enjoy being on the same team.
“We work well together and
it means a lot to do this with her at a higher level,” Callie said.
“Seeing her do this, it makes me want to push myself to do better
and have a higher standard for myself.”
Just like many of their peers, Seth and
Lily Manor come from a family with military service. Their dad was
in the Navy and their mom was an Army nurse.
Only a year
apart and practically inseparable – Seth a sophomore and Lily a
freshman – the decision for both siblings to lead and join Army
ROTC didn’t come as a surprise.
“Growing up we both had pretty
similar interests, and obviously those interests have shone through
now that we’re both in ROTC and we’re both in the nursing program,”
“I think it’s really cool to have someone that
shares very similar values and priorities in life that you do. The
best people to lean on and get input from are people that have sometimes
been in the same situation as you because you know they understand
what you’re going through.”
Both were CNAs in high school
and chose the University of Tennessee because of its direct admission
nursing program, both were Army ROTC National Scholarship recipients,
and both chose the Rocky Top Battalion because “it felt like they
actually wanted me to be here.”
“Everyone’s always willing
to help each other out,” Seth said. “They really help you develop
as a leader and a person.”
While both are grateful (and maybe
sometimes a little annoyed) to be going through school and ROTC
with a sibling, both Seth and Lily have different reasons for pursuing
careers as Army nurses.
Seth’s is more rooted in following
family footsteps, “especially with my mom whispering in my ear and
telling me it’s a good profession.”
Lily’s reason stems from her own experiences
during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I was a CNA during COVID and
we just got thrown into it,” she said. “I was a 16-year-old working
the floor and it was hard, but I feel like seeing all of that was
more of my calling. I saw a lot of things that I wanted to do better
in than other people at the time. I wanted to be a leader in that
aspect and just do better.”
As Seth and Lily continue to
navigate the next few years of college classes and Army ROTC, both
are motivated to continue developing their leadership skills in
preparation for where their Army careers will take them after graduation.
“I think it’s awesome that we share the same values of serving
our country and serving other people as nurses,” Seth said.
“I kind of hope we cross paths once we commission…I think it
would be awesome for a chance to cross paths, work at the same hospital,
or just be at the same post.”
Following a strong desire to make a positive impact – whether
the Cadets are related or not – Army ROTC is about creating bonds
that transcend friendship and establish a foundational network of
understanding and encouragement to guide Cadets in their Army careers.
There will always be a brother or sister there to offer support.
Like the rest of the siblings in the Rocky Top Battalion, Charlie
McElyea understands his situation is especially unique.
the Army everybody always says, ‘That’s my brother or that’s my
sister,’ well that’s literally my sister and we’ll be going at everything
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