Altoona student uses ROTC to fulfill role of mentor

kaylah thompson

Delta Company Commander Kaylah Thompson teaches Brandon Osawazu how to march.

Credit: Penn State

Penn State has a longstanding and proud tradition of serving the men and women of our military through education benefits, resources, support and more. As part of Penn State’s ongoing military appreciation, we offer the following story.*

Kaylah Thompson remembers being a child at Fourth of July parades and watching the National Guard march through her hometown of Baltimore. “That was something that made an impression on me. I’ve had such respect for the military since then. When I got to college, I wasn’t really doing anything besides going to classes, so I wanted to get involved in something that would challenge me and make a difference.”

In her sophomore year, the criminal justice major decided to join the campus ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps) program. Now in her senior year, she is Company Commander for Penn State Altoona’s Delta Company. “When I was told I was going to be Company Commander, the whole world stopped for me. I pushed myself to succeed in ROTC, and now I have the opportunity to help push others toward their goals.” Thompson says she tries to focus on teamwork and building a familial atmosphere within the program. She believes the position helps her fulfill the role of mentor to younger students.

This summer, Thompson went to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for Advanced Camp and refined skills such as navigation, basic infantry battle drills/tactics, and marksmanship. There were obstacle courses, written and practical tests, and time in the field. She says one of the biggest lessons she took from the experience was learning to put her trust in others. I realized that I need to trust my peers more and understand that sometimes someone else’s way of doing something is better than mine.” Thompson says she learned more about herself including how she handles adverse situations and failure and how to be a more effective leader.

Her time at Fort Knox built upon what she does within ROTC at Penn State Altoona and her monthly National Guard Drills with Alpha Company 128BSB in Clearfield County. Thompson says those weekends at drill that have taught her the most about relating to others. “At the end of the day, everyone comes from different walks of life. You never know what stage of life someone is walking through. I think that's important to remember when you’re interacting with them.” She adds that seeing how different platoons are led by different Platoon Leaders helps her consider the best ways to lead a future platoon of her own.

Thompson says her experiences with ROTC have sometimes been trying and challenging, but she wouldn’t change anything. “I don't regret joining ROTC, and I’ve never thought “I wish I could just quit.’ I have regrets over some wasted time and making some mistakes I’m not proud of, but it’s all made me a better, stronger leader. I’ve been pushed in a lot of ways, and it’s all given me a lot of personal fulfillment.”

After she graduates, Thompson’s goal is to commission as a 2nd Lieutenant in the National Guard. She believes that role would allow her to support the army as well as continue her role as a mentor to those in lower ranks. Thompson would like to transfer to the Active Duty component of the Army in Military Police after serving her time in the National Guard & civilian law enforcement.

But for now, in her last year at Penn State Altoona, she fills her time with physical training, leadership meetings, ROTC classes, serving as secretary for Student Government Association, participating in the Omega Delta Sigma National Veterans Fraternity, and academics.

“I’m just really trying to enjoy everything because it will go so fast, said Thompson. "I really want to make a difference and be a good role model for the underclassman ROTC members. I want to push them to be the best they can be.”

*This year's Military Appreciation Week at the University begins with a Penn State football game on Oct. 27 leading up to Veterans Day on Nov. 11. This year's theme will recognize 100 years of women officially serving in the U.S. Armed Forces with special events and activities, including community football tailgate, library showcase, speaker events and more. For additional information, visit