Melissa Rahorst – A Life-Changing Trip to the Alamodome
Melissa Rahorst left her hometown of Cortland, Neb., a few days after Christmas already having a pretty good idea what she wanted to do with her life. That, in itself, is somewhat remarkable for a 17-year-old.
After numerous auditions and interviews the past year, Rahorst was chosen to be a member of the prestigious 125-piece U.S. Army All-American Marching Band. She was headed to San Antonio, Texas, to play her alto saxophone and march in the Alamodome at halftime of the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.
Rahorst would return home to Cortland, a tiny agricultural village 30 minutes south of Lincoln with less than 500 people, and resume her senior year at nearby Norris High School.
In October, Rahorst shocked her parents Ron and Kathy by enlisting in the Nebraska Army National Guard at the earliest age allowed. “I enlisted a couple of months ago,” said Rahorst. “I go to drills on weekends and will go to basic training in May.”
The plan was set. Finish her senior year at Norris High. Enroll at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where she would major in instrumental or vocal music and performance, or possibly something in the field of personal training, then serve six to eight years in the Army.
However, once Rahorst got to San Antonio it was like as an epiphany. After meeting several high-ranking military officials during Bowl Week, she realized the Army would become her career vocation.
“I didn’t see this as a career when I first joined,” Rahorst said. “But after all of the experiences I had during Bowl Week, definitely. I just love the hierarchy, respect thing. I met a two-star general. That was cool.”
Rahorst said there was not one singular moment that influenced her decision, rather the cumulative effect of being around men and women who serve our country. She interacted with scores of cadets, bumped into a couple of colonels at 5 a.m., at the hotel gym.
“It’s been a crazy experience,” said Rahorst, who possesses an engaging personality and a firm handshake. “We got to meet a lot of higher ranks and I’m really practicing knowing what their rank is and how to address them.”
So, where did Rahorst’s interest in the military stem from? It’s not like she grew up in a family with strong ties in the field. A couple of distant relatives served. Her father, Ron, is an electrical engineering technician with the Nebraska Public Power District. Mother, Kathy, also played the saxophone and actually wanted to be a band director, but took a different route and became a preacher. Older sister Christine currently serves as a volunteer at a Catholic Mission in El Paso, Texas.
“I have been a part of the Legion Auxiliary that supports troops,” Rahorst recalled. “That always appealed to me.”
But, it’s not like enlisting was on Rahorst’s radar since she was a little girl. She “played like eight sports,” including soccer since she was 6. Following in her mother’s footsteps, she began playing the saxophone although her lip structure was more suited for the trumpet.
“I turned 16 and said I think I’ll join the military,” Rahorst recalled. “Then I started working out a lot and lost like 40 pounds in less than a year. I did a lot of different workouts, Insanity, P90x.”
Ron and Kathy Rahorst were startled by their youngest daughter’s declaration and encouraged her to really give it some thought.
“I told my parents that I wanted to join. They said, ‘This is such a shock. You need to think about it.’ I thought about it for a month and said I’m doing it. They said, ‘You need to think about a little more.’ I joined in the end of October.”
So, the Rahorst roadmap has changed somewhat after a week in San Antonio.
After high school graduation, there’s Basic Training and military job training in the summer. Rahorst will attend the University of Nebraska in the fall, join the ROTC and remain in the Nebraska Army National Guard. Four years later, she hopes to be an officer then attend school for officer training.
Rahorst now has her sights set at a different level. “My ultimate goal would be to join the Special Forces or Rangers once they let women integrate into that system. As a naïve private, I want to get deployed.”
Even though she is serving in the Army, Rahorst still has dreams more in line with typical teenagers. “I want to be famous. I write a lot of my own songs. I want to go into that world vocally. I like the pop music scene, maybe pull my sax out every once in a while.”
Looking back on the week in San Antonio, Rahorst knows one thing for sure. “I’m definitely hoping to come back to this event as one of the cadets.”
You know the U.S. Army will benefit from Melissa Rahorst’s decision to serve. And if the military band needs someone to sing or play the Concerto by Alexander Glazunov on saxophone, she has that covered too.