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Mahowald develops future leaders at UNL ROTC
Heather Mahowald’s military ambitions started young. As her dad shared stories about his time in the Army, a young Heather listened with rapt attention.
“He always spoke very fondly of his time when he served,” Mahowald said. “And so he planted that seed when I was very, very young.”
That’s why in 2000, Mahowald joined the Air Force ROTC. After spending three years studying sociology and going through the ROTC training, Mahowald commissioned into the Air Force in 2003. After eight years of active duty, Mahowald switched to the reserves and started her family. As her kids grew out of their toddler years, she decided it was time to return to active duty.
Now, 18 years after she first commissioned, Mahowald is a lieutenant colonel serving as a cadre member at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s Air Force ROTC program.
Mahowald works as a recruiter and instructor for the program. Between teaching classes on leadership and Air Force history, she meets with current and prospective ROTC students to determine their fit in the force. It’s a job that’s always been something she dreamed of.
“I really missed leading. I really missed that ability to be a positive influence,” Mahowald said. “So when I saw the opportunity to teach ROTC and come back on active duty, I jumped at the chance to do it.”
Mahowald’s job allows her to work directly with the Air Force’s future leaders, whether it’s through teaching classes or talking with them one-on-one about their future in the Air and Space Force.
“I also really have a strong desire to be a positive influence on the next generation, and it energizes me to be a part of that mission,” Mahowald said.
But being a member of the military isn’t always easy.
“We have a lot of sacrifices that we have to make for our families because the mission comes first,” Mahowald said.
That means she can be away from her family for months for training or have to leave for work early and come home late. She misses time with her kids, but she knows it’s worth it.
“On Veteran’s Day, my kids write stories to their favorite vet, and they will usually write a story about their mom,” Mahowald said. “Their little stories reflect on how I’ve had to be gone from home, but also how proud they are of what their mom gets to do. When I get to see the stories they bring home, I know that they get it. They know that what mom is doing is important.”