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U.S. Air Force Major J. Bohnert takes the Air Force slogan, "Aim High," to heart.
On Saturday, June 2, Bohnert, a 2008 Southeast Missouri State University Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (AFROTC) graduate now stationed at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., returned to campus exactly a decade after his commissioning to celebrate his promotion to major in the place where it all began.
Since his graduation from Southeast, Bohnert, an Altenburg, Missouri, native with a degree in computer science, has been stationed at bases across the country and around the world, offering his family little opportunity to celebrate his military milestones along the way. But when Bohnert learned he would be promoted to major on June 1, which coincided with a planned vacation back home, he asked if his ceremony could be held at Southeast.
It seemed appropriate, he said, to take the oath as "major" in the same location – the Dempster Hall atrium – where he was commissioned an officer a decade earlier.
"It was pretty special to stand in that same spot 10 years later and continue down that same path," Bohnert said.
Even more special was having U.S. Air Force Major Michael Berry issue him the oath of office as major and the restatement of the officer's oath. Berry, now retired, served as the Aerospace Studies Detachment 205 AFROTC commander at Southeast while Bohnert was a cadet.
Major J. Bohnert addresses friends and family at his promotion ceremony. (Photo courtesy of Rachel Bohnert Photography)
Since 2008, Bohnert participated in basic communications training at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi. He then spent nearly three years at Royal Air Force Mildenhall, known as RAF Mildenhall, about two hours north of London. From September 2011 to October 2015, he was engaged in cyber defense activities at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. Since then, he has been providing communications support at the Pentagon.
Bohnert first became interested in pursuing a military career while participating as a cadet in the Civil Air Patrol during his high school years. That interest grew during his years as an AFROTC cadet at Southeast.
"The education I got at SEMO was outstanding," he said. "I've gone toe to toe with graduates of the Air Force Academy and universities across the nation, and I've matched or exceeded them every time."
He credits Southeast faculty and Air Force staff who served as mentors and taught him valuable leadership skills. He credited Vance Pawielski, communications coordinator with Southeast Air Force ROTC, for guiding him on what to expect as he transitioned from a cadet to an officer upon graduating from Southeast.
He advised students currently serving as AFROTC cadets at Southeast to take advantage of professors in their academic programs and to learn from them.
"Don't just focus on your technical abilities" but strengthen your leadership skills, he said. While Bohnert says he hasn't done much computer programming since graduating from Southeast, the leadership skills he gained as a cadet have enhanced his abilities to lead cybersecurity efforts.
Eventually, he hopes to become a lieutenant colonel and command a cyber mission force and "make a difference in the nation's cybersecurity posture," he said.
But for now, he says, "I feel honored to be able to have the opportunity to keep serving my country."
Bohnert is married to the former Rachel Schwiesow, a Gordonville, Missouri, native and a 2008 graduate of Southeast with a degree in English. Bohnert is the son of Matthew and Sarah Bohnert of Altenburg, Missouri.