Outstanding officer

UWL graduate earns top cadet honors for 7-state region

Alastair Keys knows how to make long and difficult treks. The ROTC cadet is used to doing miles of ruck hikes as part of the program. His walk on Sunday ­­— across the La Crosse Center stage at UWL’s commencement — will be much easier.

But before his final steps as a UWL student, he’ll take his next steps on his journey in the military. He and 11 others in the ROTC Battalion will be commissioned as officers.

Along with the commissioning, Keys will receive the Legion of Valor Bronze Cross for Achievement. The award recognizes outstanding leadership, academic performance and military achievement, and is given to the top cadet in every brigade. UWL’s ROTC battalion is part of a seven-state brigade with 41 programs and about 1,000 cadets.

“I was shocked,” says Keys. “I worked pretty hard in my time in ROTC, it was nice to get recognized.”

Keys initially came to UWL from Eau Claire to wrestle for coach Dave Malecek. He wrestled for two years before focusing his energy on his schoolwork and ROTC. “I feel the lessons he learned in the UWL wrestling room and around our team and coaches have only helped him in his amazing climb as a cadet,” says Malecek. “He’s a great example that hard work does pay off.”

“I’ve been afforded all the opportunities in the world,” Keys says. That included completing the U.S. Army Special Forces Combat Diver Qualification Course, one of only five ROTC cadets to pass, and competing in ranger challenges.

Keys is earning his degree in biochemistry and is on the pre-medicine track. He calls that his backup plan. “UWL gave me an opportunity to combine intellect and physical fitness,” he says. “It all really fit me well.”

After graduating, Keys will move to Ft. Benning, Georgia, for four months of training, followed by ranger school and airborne school. When all of that is complete, he will be an infantry officer and lead a platoon.

“You earn what you get in the Army,” says Keys. “If you put in the work, it’s good to you. If you don’t, you don’t get a lot out of it.”

As for how he’ll remember the time at UWL: “It’s been a blast.”