Cadet Wing Commander of UT’s Air Force ROTC Detachment 825, Michelle Solsbery, holds the highest position an ROTC cadet can achieve. Solsbery’s duties as Wing Commander include delegating tasks, leading groups and preparing underclassmen for Field Training.
Photo Credit: Griffin Smith | Daily Texan Staff

A 5-year-old girl stares up at a row of jets ascending toward the clouds. White exhaust fumes streak the sky as the Thunderbirds, the air demonstration squadrons of the U.S. Air Force, perform synchronized loops. In this moment, the young girl, Michelle Solsbery, decides her future. She wants to fly.

Now in her last year in Air Force ROTC, Solsbery is on her way to earning a seat in the cockpit. 

“I’m worried about motion sickness,” Solsbery said. “But I’m really excited to get started and get into the real world.” 

Solsbery is the Cadet Wing Commander of Detachment 825, the AFROTC detachment at UT. Cadet Wing Commander is the highest position a cadet, or member of ROTC, can fill. 

Detachment 825 consists of about 75 cadets from UT, ACC, St. Edward’s University and Huston-Tillotson University. Solsbery, a political science senior at St. Edward’s University, joined the detachment during her second semester of college. 

As commander, she delegates tasks, leads the group and prepares underclassmen for Field Training, a three-week long summer program that second-year cadets must complete to be commissioned into the U.S. Air Force after they graduate college.

Training is especially rigourous in the spring, as the commander and other upperclassmen have to prepare underclassmen for Field Training, according to Solsbery.

“I think they typically want that stronger persona that the males often give off instead of a female in the spring semester,” Solsbery said. “I think I’m the first female in the spring for the past 10 years, so it’s really cool to be able to do that.”

Although only 33 percent of the Air Force cadets at UT’s detachment are women, three out of the past four commanders have been female. Colonel David Haase, the ROTC department chair at UT, said this is no accident. 

“They do very well,” Haase said. “I don’t know if it’s because they come in more mature or they have something to prove. The females are very strong. They’re committed and focused.”

Now in her second year in AFROTC, supply chain management sophomore Madison Glemser is training to earn a spot at Field Training this summer. 

The Air Force only admits a certain number of cadets each year from across the nation. Acceptance is based on a faculty assessment, grade point average, fitness tests and SAT scores.

Griffin Smith | Daily Texan Staff

“[The national board] doesn’t care if they are male or female,” Haase said. “It’s a tough competitive process, and making it through is just amazing.”

According to Glemser, being a woman in this program comes with challenges. She said her biggest struggle is leading the flight. Each flight, or individual class within the detachment, alternates flight commanders throughout the semester.

“When you’re marching the flight around and calling out commands, guys tend to have a stronger voice because they are deeper,” Glemser said. “It’s hard for the girls to have a stronger command presence, but it’s definitely possible.”

Italian senior Hannah Prague was the Cadet Wing Commander in the fall semester. Like Solsbery, Prague plans to fly for the Air Force. Her decision to join ROTC grew from her family’s history in the military. She has relatives who fought at Pearl Harbor, stormed the beach at Normandy and fought in Vietnam. 

“I wanted to go to college, but I still wanted to serve my country,” Prague said. “It was kind of a calling.”

Prague said the ROTC program is set up to hold both genders to the same standards.

“You’re a cadet first, and you’re a lady second,” Prague said. “It makes us stronger because it makes us be on the same level.”

Now in their last semester of college, both Solsbery and Prague have received their base assignments at Vance Air Force Base in Oklahoma and Columbus Air Force Base in Mississippi, respectively. After graduation, they will be commissioned. Then, within 364 days, they will enter active duty and begin pilot training. 

“Whether you’re a woman or a man or whatever kind of income or ethnic background you come from, you can do this,” Prague said. “It’s a culture of competition here. You just have to fight like the rest of us.”

"Duck Dynasty's" Robertson family to release holiday album

Nothing says happy holidays like bushy beards, camouflage and duck calls. At least that will be the case when Duck the Halls: A Robertson Family Christmas hits shelves this October.

The Robertson clan is putting its Duck Commander stamp of approval on the holidays with its debut Christmas album, which features wacky if not completely absurd Christmas titles such as “Hairy Christmas,” “Christmas Cookies” and “Camouflage and Christmas Lights.”

The clan, including Phil, Willie, Jase and crazy uncle Si, has a few classic Christmas songs on its 13-track album, such as “Silent Night,” “The Night Before Christmas” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”

The album features performances from country stars Luke Bryan, Josh Turner, Alison Krauss and legendary country crooner George Strait.

But are these country superstars an attempt to save a potential music flop?

No strangers to celebrity, the Robertson men have commandeered every marketing avenue, including beach towels, calendars, clothes, ice chests, sun glasses and even Halloween candy. It just seems natural for them to move into the next avenue with a record deal.

Oddly enough, none of the Robertsons sing on the show except for Jase’s wife Missy, who led the wedding march at Phil and Kay’s wedding renewal. But if the show is any indication, the album is sure to prove humorous. Any sign of Si singing his heart out is enough to win us over.

The tight-knit family that came to capture America’s heart and ratings has cemented its name in Hollywood. Anything with the Duck Commander logo or the group's bushily bearded faces instantly sells out. Despite the fact that this album might prove to be total garbage, it will most likely be a huge hit.

At least that is what country star Jason Aldean told 99.5 WYCD Detroit Country’s radio station.

“They’re so hot right now, I think they can put out anything and it’s gonna do well,” Aldean said. That’s what I told Willie. I said, ‘Man, I’ve been a musician my whole life. You get a TV show. You come to town and get a record deal. You got people trying to throw record deals at you. I spent years here trying to get one.’ I’m like, ‘You’re gonna release a Christmas album. It’s gonna go 10-times platinum. You’re gonna sell more records than me and Luke (Bryan) combined.”

With a pay increase of $200,000 per episode and record breaking ratings — Duck Dynasty brought in 11.8 million viewers for the season four premiere, making it cable's most-watched nonfiction TV show to date — the redneck family is not planning to fade into the background anytime soon.

We can’t help but feel that a record deal was a little far-fetched, but we will have to wait and see what the verdict is on this seasonal album, out Oct. 29.

While this record looks to prove as quirky and original as the TV show, one thing is certain: It will leave Duck Dynasty’s biggest fans happy, happy, happy. 

COLLEGE STATION — Nearly a half-century after African-Americans were admitted to predominantly white Texas A&M University, a black student has reached the pinnacle of one of its signature organizations.

Marquis Alexander next school year will become commander of A&M’s Corps of Cadets, a high-profile post that involves establishing the cadets’ dress codes for their military-style uniforms and setting their daily schedule, including physical training that can begin before dawn.

“There is a sense of pride that’s there,” Alexander, 22, said Wednesday, standing in front of the “Corps Arches,” an arched brick wall that marks the entrance to the dormitory area for the 2,100 members of the Aggie Corps of Cadets. “I look at it as encouragement to other people to get out and do whatever they want no matter what their background is.”

Black students represent less than 4 percent of the 40,000 undergraduate students at the College Station campus.

“A lot of people from that part of town don’t come here,” said Alexander, who already spent a year and a half in the Marine reserves before enrolling at Texas A&M in 2009.

His continuing duty as a reservist, where he’s a corporal, also makes him the first person with actual military experience to head the corps.

Texas A&M opened its doors in 1876. Blacks and women weren’t allowed until 87 years later. The first African-Americans joined the corps in 1964. The first women cadets came a decade later. Alexander, who hopes for a career as a military lawyer or intelligence work, said he wasn’t even aware he was the first black cadet commander until someone told him.

“I don’t know why it’s taken so long,” he said. “But I know the corps’ process is that they will always put the best people in the spot. I can honestly say my race didn’t play a factor. I hope it’s because I was legitimately the best person for the job.”

Printed on Friday, April 13, 2012 as: Texas A&M appoints first black Cadet commander

GORENTAS, Turkey (AP) — Syrian rebel commander Ahmad Mihbzt and his ragtag fighters grabbed their aging rifles to fight Syrian troops advancing on their village, but soon fled under a rain of exploding artillery shells.

“We will fight until our last drop of blood,” Mihbzt declared a week later in this village across the Turkish border. “We just withdrew because we ran out of ammunition.”

Like Mihbzt’s men, rebels across Syria fighting to topple President Bashar Assad lack the weapons that can pose a serious challenge to the regime’s large, professional army. Some rebel units have more fighters than guns, forcing them to take turns fighting. Because of ammunition shortages, some fire automatic rifles one shot at a time, counting each bullet.

Rebel leaders and anti-regime activists say rising gun prices and more tightly controlled borders are making it harder for them to acquire arms and smuggle them into Syria. This could tip the already unbalanced military equation of Syria’s year-old uprising further in the regime’s favor.

The opposition has suffered a series of military setbacks as regime forces have repeatedly routed them in their strongholds, most recently the eastern city of Deir al-Zour on Tuesday.

The weapons shortage has grown so acute that the opposition’s disorganized leadership say only military aid can stop Assad’s forces. Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Libya have spoken positively of the idea, but no country is known to be arming the rebels. The United States and many European countries have rejected sending weapons, fearing that it would fuel a civil war.

The weapons problems reflect the fractured, haphazard nature of the rebel movement. The uprising began a year ago with peaceful protests demanding political reform, inspired by the successful revolts in Tunisia and Egypt. Since then, Assad has waged a withering crackdown.

In response, some in the opposition began to take up arms to defend their towns and attack government troops. The local militias and breakaway units from the Syrian army mostly identify with the Free Syrian Army, a loose-knit umbrella group, but they operate independent of each other. The groups, numbering anywhere from a few dozen to a few hundred men, are largely on their own in finding weapons and supplies.

Defectors from the army, mostly low-level soldiers, bring arms and know-how with them. Most have only light weapons, such as Kalashnikov assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades. Rebel coordinators say groups have looted heavier weapons from army caches, and activist videos posted online show anti-aircraft guns and anti-tank missiles. But heavy weapons remain rare and have not significantly boosted rebel capabilities.

Smuggling from neighboring countries was key earlier in the conflict. But rebels and anti-regime activists now say Syrian forces have mined many of the smuggling routes from Turkey and Lebanon, and the Turkish and Jordanian governments have tightened border controls to avoid being pulled into the conflict.

Rebel frustrations are clear in the string of poor Turkish villages across Syria’s northern border where more than 16,000 Syrians live in refugee camps. The camps host hundreds of rebel fighters seeking to regroup as well as smugglers who trade in livestock, cigarettes and gasoline.

Last week, some 200 rebels with light arms in the Syrian hill village of Janoudiyeh were no match for Assad’s forces, which shelled the area before sending in troops, said Mihbzt, the rebel commander.

His forces fled across the border, about 6 miles from town, and into Turkey. But rising gun prices and strict border controls prevent his men from rearming, he said. So they plan to target border sentries to seize their arms or loot Syrian arms depots.

Other fighters who have found refuge in Turkey reported similar frustrations.

“We were forced to fire single shots in clashes because we don’t have enough ammunition,” said Majdi Hamdo. “I have two magazines for my Kalashnikov and one of them has been empty for the past month.”

In contrast, analysts say Assad’s army boasts 330,000 soldiers and highly advanced weaponry, most of it bought from Russia.

While many of its recent weapons purchases — like air defense technology and anti-ship missiles — can’t be used against rebels, they point to a highly sophisticated force.

Joseph Holliday, an analyst with the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War who has studied Syria’s rebels, said they will not be able to challenge the army without substantial help, though they can wage an effective insurgency.

“There is no possibility in the foreseeable future that they’ll be able to pose a real challenge to or defeat the regime’s forces in a pitched battle,” he said. “They can continue to survive. They can attack areas where the regime is not in full control, and they can sap regime forces and get them to play the proverbial whack-a-mole that U.S. forces had to deal with in Iraq.”

That means the violence could last. Already the revolt has become one of the bloodiest of the Arab Spring, with the U.N. saying more than 8,000 people have been killed.

“Because of the strength of the regime and because of the rebels’ survivability and resilience, you’re looking at a protracted conflict,” he said.

Rebels in Syria’s south typify this insurgent strategy, where small bands of fighters attack regime targets then disappear into nearby farmland. This week, they bombed a bridge on a key highway to prevent the army from bringing in more tanks.

Activist Raed al-Suleiman said his village of Nawa in Daraa province has fewer than 100 rebels, whom local residents support.

“They give them money, food or clothing,” he said. “Their ammunition is all booty from the regime since no aid is coming from Jordan.”

Ahmad Kassem, an FSA coordinator outside Syria, said rebels had recently looted weapons caches in Daraa and outside of Damascus, getting thousands of machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades, anti-aircraft guns and missiles.

“The seized weapons will give a qualitative jump to our military operations,” he said. “It’s not enough, but sufficient in the meantime to inflict harm on Bashar’s oppressive army.”

The Syrian government blames the uprising terrorist groups acting out a foreign conspiracy and cites insurgent attacks to press its argument. It has vowed to keep fighting.

It bars most media organizations for working in the country, and rebel and activists claims could not be independently confirmed.

Still, many rebels say the arms shortage restricts their abilities.

Rebel coordinator Mohammed Qaddah in Jordan said some 2,000 fighters in the countryside around Damascus have less than one rifle per man, forcing them to take turns or resort to simpler means.

“We use Molotov cocktails and homemade grenades in roadside ambushes because we’re desperate,” he said. “But we have no means to arm all our eager men.”

Austin police made 29 arrests in the Sixth Street area Saturday night, including 11 arrests for public intoxication. APD designated Saturday and Tuesday part of the No Refusal Initiative to reduce the number of fatalities caused by drunken drivers. “We want to encourage folks to come down and enjoy themselves and enjoy the Mardi Gras festivities, but please do so in a safe and responsible manner, especially when it comes to finding a way home,” said Commander Chris McIlvain of the downtown patrol. Police issued nine Breathalyzer tests and 14 blood tests. Four people voluntarily submitted to blood tests, and an on-call judge issued warrants to obtain blood samples from 10 additional suspects. According to APD statistics, 85 percent of collisions that usually occur between midnight and 2:59 a.m. involve a driver under the influence of alcohol. A judge was on call this Saturday from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. and will be back on Tuesday to write warrants for suspected drunken drivers who refuse a breath or blood test. Officers will then take suspects to the Blood Alcohol Content Bus, also known as the BATBUS, to have blood drawn. The DWI Enforcement Team, overtime units and the BATBUS allow regular officers to return to their patrols and prevent them from spending hours on a single DWI case, said Highway Enforcement Commander Jason Dusterhoft. Dusterhoft advised visitors to the downtown area this Mardi Gras to create a plan and to exercise good judgment to follow that plan after they have been drinking. “If that doesn’t happen, my team and all the patrol officers that we’re going to have out here saturating the area will end up taking those people to jail,” Dusterhoft said. Last year, APD made 43 driving-while-intoxicated arrests as a result of the No Refusal Initiative. More than 40 percent of those were double the legal limit, Dusterhoft said. Road closures can be expected Tuesday night in the area around Sixth Street starting at 6 p.m.