US Army veteran Rachel Danneker felt the Volunteer spirit of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, long before she ever set foot on campus.
Her battalion commander, Colonel Stephen Capehart, graduated from UT in 1999 after majoring in criminal justice. Capehart motivated her to return to college and persuaded her that his alma mater would be a great choice. He also nominated her for the 4th Infantry Division Commanding General’s Green to Gold Hip Pocket Scholarship—a two-year award that would allow her to complete a bachelor’s degree and return to the Army as a commissioned officer.
“When I look back at my time at Knoxville, it made me who I am,” Capehart explained in a 2017 video. “It gave me the basics of leadership, the basics of knowledge, that basically projected me to the active duty force. In my experiences through life, they’ve all been grounded from what I was able to retain from the ROTC program there on campus.”
Danneker, a native of Williamsport, Pennsylvania, arrived on Rocky Top as a sophomore in fall 2017, majoring in marketing in UT’s Haslam College of Business. “I was nervous the first time I came to UT. I thought I was going to have trouble adjusting to college life and being on a large campus,” Danneker said. “Being that I was new to the area, I tried my best to get involved on campus and quickly found friends both in and outside of the ROTC program.”
Danneker spent a significant part of her time at UT assisting in developing the cadets and helping them succeed through the ROTC program, which she says is what stands out most for her from her experience on campus. “With the help of another prior service cadet, we leaned on our experiences in the Army to give insight into what it might be like in the future,” Danneker said. “I loved being the person who others would ask for help.”
Danneker graduated in 2020 and was commissioned as an armor officer, moving to Fort Benning, Georgia, for her initial job training. She has learned the inner workings of the Abrams tank, how to lead a platoon of soldiers, and even more about who she is as a leader. “My goals for the future include having a successful experience as a platoon leader, developing the knowledge and skills to become a proficient executive officer, and later transitioning into the intelligence side of the Army as a captain,” she said.
“The feeling I got from Tennessee and the Volunteer spirit was like my experience in the military—being part of something bigger than yourself,” commented Danneker.
For Danneker, being a Vol for Life extends to her life outside Tennessee. “For me, being a VFL means sporting my orange every chance I get. It’s shouting ‘Go Vols!’ to a stranger in the supermarket. But most of all, it’s giving back to the place I’ve since called home.”
Lacey Wood, (865-974-8386, firstname.lastname@example.org)