The two sisters stood by the cannon at the corner of the football field with the rest of the crew in olive-colored uniforms, waiting for the Natrona County High School football team to score. With each touchdown, the cannon crew blasted streams of sparks and puffs of smoke away from the field.

The two teens’ mom, Atchley Reed, watched from the top of the bleachers last Friday at Natrona County High School. She saw the younger of the two, Makkenzye Thompson, pull the rope to shoot the cannon for her first time.

The Army-style fatigues are familiar to Reed. Both girls followed in the footsteps of their mother, who spent high school in JROTC and became one of the highest ranked and most accomplished members. The purpose of the Mustang Battalion is to motivate young people to be better citizens, according to its website.

“I feel that there is a great accomplishment and strong values in participating in ROTC,” Reed said. “I don’t expect them to follow in my footsteps, but I feel that the friendships that they gain from ROTC are so rewarding and last a lifetime.”

Family tradition

Lexee Cummins and Makkenzye like to point out the trophies with their mother’s name that have lined the hall near the JROTC classroom at NC. During a celebration a few years ago of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Mustang Battalion, the family found many photos of Reed in albums on display. Lexee even took the saber her mom was awarded in JROTC to show her friends in the group this year.

Reed was the first girl in the Mustang Battalion to finish the statewide Recon Challenge. The competition included a three-mile run, a one-mile run, obstacle courses and other exercises, including push-ups. She completed the competition her junior and senior years.

Reed was named top female in the NC battalion her final two years in high school and spent her senior year as a sergeant major, the third-highest rank in the battalion, she said.

During Lexee’s freshman year, Reed asked the teen if she’d considered joining JROTC. But Lexee said it wasn’t for her. She didn’t think she could live up to her mother’s accomplishments, and she has a physical condition that could make some of the physical training difficult, she said.

Then her best friend joined, and soon everyone at their lunch table was talking about the training and activities, Lexee said. She met friends who were in JROTC. They made her feel welcome and so she decided to join.

Makkenzye, on the other hand, looked forward to joining the battalion years before she started high school.

“I was going to try and beat my mom,” she said, smiling.

Despite the competitions, JROTC members stick together. It doesn’t matter if someone is coming in last in a run; fellow JROTC members cheer them on, the girls said. They also hold roasts for one another, and everyone knows the comedic jabs are in fun and take it in stride, Lexee said.

The junior said she’s enjoyed the activities like cannon crew, physical training, rifle work and, especially, the friends she’s made.

“We’re so close knit, we’re like a family,” Lexee said.

Making memories

The battalion takes part in community events including the Central Wyoming Fair and Rodeo Parade, ceremonies for Memorial Day and Veterans Day and placing wreaths during the holiday season at the Wyoming Veterans Cemetery.

The two sisters are part of their battalion’s Living History Team, where cadets on the cannon crew shoot the replica 1841 Mountain Howitzer at events like home football games. Lexee also competes in National History Day on the team, which also gives presentations in the community. The team this year will take a research project about Pearl Harbor to the local and state-level competition, Lexee said. She earned a marksmanship medal, among other awards including for academic excellence.

Makkenzye is moving toward a promotion to private in the battalion. She enjoys the rifle training as well and hopes to make the varsity rifle team.

She’s also been working on her distance running. Although she can complete a mile in seven minutes, she’d like to beat her mother’s Recon Challenge run time: three miles in 18 minutes.

The second generation of JROTC women in the family is making memories and learning skills, values and friends to last a lifetime, Reed said.

Makkenzye has always planned to go into the military, so JROTC is a head start for that goal. Eventually, she wants to become a neurosurgeon, she said. Lexee plans to become a NICU nurse.

JROTC is a part of the strong work ethic Reed strives to instill in the girls and their two younger siblings.

“I think that they learn that and lot more as well in ROTC,” Reed said. “And the lifelong friends — whether they go into the military, whether they stay in Casper, whatever they plan to do — they’re still there.”

Follow reporter Elysia Conner on Twitter @erconner

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