Columbus State Graduate Student Named Nation's Top ROTC Cadet

Ricky Leslie, national ROTC Cadet of YearCOLUMBUS, Ga. — Columbus State University this week confirmed that a CSU graduate student has been named the Army's top ROTC cadet among his 5,470 counterparts preparing to become officers next spring at campuses across the nation.

Ricky W. Leslie, who's pursuing a Master of Public Administration in health service administration from CSU, attributed his achievement as the U.S. Army Cadet Command's Cadet of the Year to the support of his family, fellow cadets, his ROTC faculty and staff, and the "high standards I have set for myself."

"My parents instilled and enforced the value of hard work and sacrifice my entire life," said Leslie, the middle child among five sons of Michael D. Leslie of Elkins, Ark., and Penny A. Moncrief of Fayetteville, Ark.

Currently an active-duty staff sergeant as a result of enlisting in 2005, Leslie is participating in the Army's Green to Gold Program that reroutes select non-commissioned officers into the commissioned officer career path. Leslie expects to graduate with his master's next May, when he will be commissioned as a second lieutenant, assigned to work in the Finance branch.

Lt. Col. Michael Feret, a professor of military science and Columbus State's ROTC commander, praised Leslie's commitment to excellence, which helped him compile a top score of 101.5 among cadets across the nation ranked competitively for the national Order of Merit List on the basis of academics (40 percent), leadership (60 percent) and physical fitness (15 percent).

"Cadet Leslie is a tremendous asset to have at the Cougar Battalion," Feret said. "He brings a wealth of experience and is always willing to share to better develop his peers and subordinate cadets. There is no doubt he will excel as a finance officer in the Army."

Leslie, 27, said he wasn't involved in many activities or sports during high school, preferring to work part-time starting at age 14 to save for a car and pay for his own car insurance. He graduated from Fayetteville High School in 2004 and worked nearly a year laying natural gas pipe in Arkansas before deciding to enlist. After basic training at Fort Benning, he was selected for and successfully completed both Ranger and Airborne schools there.

Four deployments to Afghanistan and one to Yemen followed, all while Leslie was assigned to the Fort Benning-based 75th Ranger Regiment. His performance in the military, including completion of nine operations-specific military schools, helped him decide to begin taking college classes, leading to a Bachelor of Business Administration from and a Master of Science in operations management from universities elsewhere.

A first-generation college graduate, Leslie credits his wife, Grecia, also an ROTC cadet at Columbus State, with "pushing me" to pursue admission to the Green to Gold Program, which means more than a dozen of CSU's 110 ROTC cadets have prior experience as NCO's.

"I enjoy the military and the military lifestyle," Leslie said. "(My wife) helped me get to the point where I wanted more responsibility and the ability to influence others."

He describes "as different as night and day" his work as an NCO and what he's preparing for as a commissioned officer. But it's also prepared him "to articulate to other soldiers what's going to happen," based on his NCO experience.

Leslie said he's looking forward to working in finance at a military base that's still to be decided after graduating next May. As a result of his ROTC scholarship, he will be committed to serve another eight years in the Army as a commissioned officer.

"Finance ties to almost everything," he said. "It's about taking care of my family and making sure soldiers get paid."

For Feret, Leslie continues a tradition of cadets who excel. Two other CSU students finished in the Order of Merit List's Top 20 in the last two years. Last summer, CSU saw its ROTC cadets attending the Army's Leadership Development and Assessment Course at Fort Lewis, Wash., including Leslie, being recognized as the top unit among 39 schools from the Southeast.

"We tell (our cadets) the Army's competitive," Feret said. "And as time goes on, it gets tougher. You have to be a top performer and strive to be the best."

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Staff Sgt. Ricky Leslie
Columbus State University student
Army's ROTC Cadet of the Year

High-resolution version of displayed photo
Alternate low-res Army photo of Leslie in dress uniform, 2012