A guide to the University of North Dakota’s ROTC Helicopter Flight Training Program tells candidates to be successful, “you need the strength to lead, the composure to keep cool under pressure and the overwhelming desire to succeed.”
Those who’ve watched 19-year-old Ridge Halenar grow up in Payson know those leadership and management skills are what have motivated him since he was a star pitcher on a Little League all-star team that played its way into the state tournament.
His all-around proficiency and ability make him a perfect fit for the UND program he enrolled in last fall after his graduation from Payson High School with the class of 2009.
Halenar has just wrapped up his first semester in the university’s military science department, and he’s convinced his decision to commit to ROTC training was the right one.
“I love it there (UND). It’s the right school for me,” he said.
Halenar was in Payson over the holidays visiting family and friends during the university’s winter recess.
He says during the second semester of school, he will begin his helicopter training, a dream he has had since early in his high school years.
The PHS grad anticipates he’ll have his first opportunity to fly in Army helicopters during field training events.
Among the attractions that led him to accept a $205,000 ROTC scholarship is that the program he’s enrolled in is the only one in the country to combine the Army curriculum with advanced helicopter training. Which means he’ll earn a college degree and his flight certification at the same time. Upon graduation, he will be commissioned a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army, and then be expected to serve at least six years.
Among the certifications he can earn in college are FFA private helicopter, commercial helicopter and instrument ratings.
Although the program appears very attractive at first glance, Halenar has been warned it is the most mentally challenging and emotionally draining education a student can experience.
He’s also been told Army ROTC is much more than textbook learning. He’ll receive hands-on training on how to lead, organize people and tasks and how to motivate. As an Army officer, he must learn to take command and to deal with the unexpected.
But those aren’t the only challenges he’ll be facing over the next 3-1/2 years.
He’s also committed to play baseball at the university, which will double his load, mostly because the Fighting Sioux spend much of their time traveling. For the schedule of 56 games this spring, all but 11 are on the road.
“It’s so cold, we don’t play at home much, and everything we do this time of year is indoors,” he said.
Fortunately, the university, which is located in Grand Forks, ND, has two huge field houses for the baseball team to practice in.
“One for offense and one for defense,” Halenar said.
When the Fighting Sioux hit the road, the team — which is in its second year of Division 1 baseball — will challenge some big-name programs including Nebraska, Missouri and Wichita State.
Although Halenar is an untested freshman, he’s confident he’ll see plenty of playing time at the catcher position he held for four years at Payson High.
“I think I’m either (ranked) one or two (of the catchers),” he said.
Last year, the team finished 14-23, but Halenar expects the Fighting Sioux to be much improved because talented recruits will bolster the returning lettermen.
“I think we’ll be pretty good,” he projects.
During his prep career, Halenar was one of the most heralded players to ever don a Longhorn uniform.
Although he was not named the East region’s Player of the Year at the conclusion of his senior baseball season, there were plenty of fans and coaches who argued vehemently he was deserving of the laurels. He wrapped up his final prep season as the East’s most dangerous hitter with a .621 average. He also had a team-high 48 RBIs, scored 40 runs and powered 24 extra base hits.
Behind the plate, he was widely considered the 3A conference’s finest catcher, with a strong arm and quick release that gunned down most base runners attempting to steal.
While he might have been denied POY honor in baseball, he was named the Offensive Player of the Year in football. The honor was awarded after he expertly engineered the Longhorns to the 2008 state crown.
During the Horns’ undefeated season, he completed 77 of 133 passes for 1,217 yards, 21 touchdowns and just five interceptions.
As good as he was throwing the ball, he was an even better leader and ball carrier.
In 94 carries, he racked up 743 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Halenar was at his gridiron best in the state championship game when he rallied the Longhorns from a 20-0 halftime deficit to a double-overtime victory over the Blue Ridge Yellow Jackets.