Cadet Joseph Walker graduates from Moravian on May 4, 2024, and then heads out to attend the Aviation Basic Officer Leadership Course, the first step in his journey to becoming a pilot in the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment.

Ask Cadet Joseph Walker ’24 about the biggest lesson he’s learned throughout his ROTC experience and his simple but challenging answer is, “Doing the right thing all the time, even when it’s hard.”

Born in South Plainfield, New Jersey, Walker says, “I knew I always wanted to give back to my country and serve in the military.” His mother suggested ROTC, and after exploring opportunities at several schools, he chose Moravian because the university offers the ideal combination of academics, athletics (he played football for two years), and ROTC. He and his family also love Bethlehem, particularly its family-friendly downtown area.

For Walker and the other 74 Steel Battalion cadets who come from many schools in the Lehigh Valley—Moravian, Lehigh, DeSales, Lafayette, Muhlenberg, Penn State Lehigh Valley, Northampton Area Community College, Penn State Berks, Kutztown, and Alvernia—time management is critical. Along with academics and campus activities, they work out at 6 a.m. several days a week, and their training includes running, swimming, lifting, and rucking (running with a 35-to-45-pound tactical pack on their back). They also take a weekly military science class at Lehigh University and volunteer in the community. “The hardest thing is how to switch mindsets,” says Walker. “One part of your day you’re a college student earning your degree; later that day you have to be a cadet [an officer in training], learning the mission of the army and practicing technical tasks; then later you switch back to that college mindset.”

Cadet Walker is proud to be one of the 12 Steel Battalion cadets who make up the Ranger Challenge team—which is essentially the “varsity team” of the Army ROTC program. The team has won the Ranger Challenge Competition of the 2nd “Freedom” Brigade for the past two years, competing against 50 other ROTC programs in the Northeast.

At the Sandhurst International Military Skills Competition, Cadet Joseph Walker ’24 works with team members to determine the location that will be hypothetically fired upon in the “Call to Fire” event.

As a result of their first-place win in the Ranger Challenge Competition, they advanced to the Sandhurst International Military Skills Competition, held at the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York. Fifty teams from around the globe participated in this rigorous competition that tests physical, academic, technical, and psychological skills and covers a total of more than 30 miles in 36 hours. Tanya Nalesnik, director of veteran and military services at Moravian, calls this challenge “a testament to Joseph’s commitment. He is always focused, not only on his immediate goals, but on the next part of his career as a commissioned officer. And he’s a genuinely kind, helpful young man.”

Upon graduation and his commission as a second lieutenant, Walker was awarded his first choice of branch—active-duty aviation—earning a spot against candidates from across the country based on the army’s Order of Merit List, which awards points for leadership positions, volunteer activities, sports, intramurals, club activities, honor societies, and more. From 7,500 cadets in the nation, 3,400 were selected to go on active duty. Of those 3,400, Walker was ranked 31st, placing him in the top 20 percent of the National Order of Merit List and making him a distinguished military graduate (DMG).

As a business management and organizational leadership major, with minors in Spanish and communications and media studies, Walker sees a lot of synergy between his business courses and military leadership. While he hopes to own his own business one day, his plan upon graduation is to attend the Aviation Basic Officer Leadership Course, then the Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) school, and finally flight school. Walker will graduate from flight school as a rotary wing helicopter pilot and then be assigned to his first duty station. His long-term goal is to be a pilot in the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment.

Walker recognizes that not everyone gets the same opportunities he has had, and he’s grateful for the scholarships he was awarded (the three-year Advance Designee ROTC scholarship and the Provost Scholarship, which covers room and board). “I tell high school prospects that Moravian is a hidden gem. My biggest supporters are my family—my mom especially. Secondly, my peers and the people who graduated before me. I’m where I am because of the effort I put in but also because one of the officers who graduated last year taught me a lot. He was a big mentor of mine. I really value the friendships and support I’ve experienced at Moravian and through the ROTC program.”

View more photos from the Sandhurst International Military Skills Competition.

Renée A. James ’80

Photos by Nick Chismar