KEARNEY – Loper fans likely recognize Emily Petersen as a bubbly, blond-haired cheerleader on the sidelines during University of Nebraska at Kearney athletic events.
Others may know her from Alpha Phi, the UNK sorority she’s been a member of the past two years.
But Petersen wants people to see her in a whole new light, and she’s 100% committed to making that vision a reality.
“I want to set different expectations for myself,” said Petersen, who is training to be an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps.
A soon-to-be junior at UNK, the Omaha native knows what it takes to join one of the world’s best fighting forces.
Petersen’s grandfather Frank Orsak was a master sergeant in the Marines who fought in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, where he was awarded a Purple Heart. Her grandmother Betty Orsak and father David also served in the Marine Corps.
The Petersen siblings – triplets Emily, Hannah and Rebekah and older sister Sarah – grew up hearing these stories of heroism.
“I’ve been talking about the Marine Corps to our girls from the time they were very little,” said David, who was deployed to the Gulf War and other conflicts during his eight years of service. “When some things were hard to do and the girls wanted to quit, my wife would remind them that they had Marine Corps blood in them, and that meant they were tough and they could do it.”
Learning about her family’s military history left a lasting impression on Petersen, whose appreciation for their sacrifices and strength continued to grow as she got older.
“It’s unbelievable that Marines do the things they do,” the 21-year-old said. “I respect everybody who’s out there serving.”
Inspired by her family members, Petersen made the decision last fall to apply for the Marine Corps Officer Candidates School.
“I wanted to challenge myself,” she said. “How can you grow if you’re not challenging yourself?”
David took immediate notice of his daughter’s new mindset.
“Once she made the decision to join, I saw a change in her,” he said. “She had a goal. She was determined and she worked every day to achieve that goal of getting selected to go to Officer Candidates School.”
Petersen trained for eight months to prepare for Platoon Leaders Class, a program for college students that includes two six-week sessions over back-to-back summers at the Officer Candidates School in Quantico, Virginia.
“There were times when I thought, ‘Is this something I really want to do?’ Because it’s a lot of work and they really do expect a lot from you,” said Petersen, who arrived in Virginia in late May.
Marine Corps officer training tests candidates’ knowledge, character, decision-making and physical abilities in a challenging and stressful environment to ensure they have the qualities needed to be leaders. Each candidate must pass a physical fitness test consisting of pull-ups, abdominal crunches and a 3-mile run before advancing to specific drills.
Students who complete Officer Candidates School and earn a bachelor’s degree from their respective institution are eligible to be commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps, where they’re required to serve at least three years on active duty.
Unfortunately, Petersen suffered a leg injury two weeks into training and had to leave early. She plans to return to Quantico next summer for the 10-week Officer Candidate Course.
“I’m really excited to get another chance,” she said.
Petersen is studying exercise science with a psychology minor at UNK. She’s on schedule to graduate in May 2022, when she hopes to put on that Marine Corps officer uniform for the first time.
“I want to be the first officer in my family,” the Millard West High School graduate said.
For her father David, who lives by the phrase “Once a Marine, always a Marine,” it will be a special moment.
“Having a daughter who wants to follow in my footsteps and become a Marine is an honor for me,” he said. “I’m very proud of her and I’m sure that if her grandparents were still alive, they would be very proud of her, too.”