Heflinger concludes NJROTC career, steps out of older sister’s shadow

Alice Chen, Editor-in-Chief

Jason Heflinger (12) aims his air rifle in the ROTC room. Heflinger has been a shooter on the marksmanship team for four years. Photo by Alice Chen.

Jason Heflinger (12) is no stranger to being in a shadow. 

As the second child, he has long been second in everything: Toys were passed down from his older sister, a new computer wasn’t available until his sister upgraded hers, and, when he entered high school, he was often marked by teachers as simply Megan Heflinger’s (’19) brother.

Being “the one after her,” he said, was a fact of life. 

It didn’t bother him much when they were younger, because their interests and personalities were different. But in his freshman year of high school, Jason was second to join NJROTC. Megan was captain of the marksmanship team and Commanding Officer of the ROTC staff. Her shadow returned, not unfamiliar to him but bigger than ever. 

“I had to either be better than her or feel like a faulty copy for being worse,” he said.

Jason was not like his sister—he was an introvert, he said, soft-spoken and cautious—but when she graduated, Jason was expected by the ROTC unit to fill her shoes. As he climbed the ranks and placed in competitions, every promotion and every prize was compared against Megan’s when she was his age. 

Fear of failure, he said, is strangely motivating. 

By his junior year, Jason was on track to follow in his sister’s footsteps. He was a platoon commander and a top rifle-shooter on the marksmanship team. But he still wasn’t like Megan—a different person and a different leader, he said—and as he thought about his future and his own path after high school, he realized he had yet to prove himself. 

He needed to prove not just that he could continue his sister’s legacy, but that he could create his own. Not that he could listen to her recommendations, but that he could discover his own passions. Not that he could be like her, but that he could be himself. 

Being his own person, Jason said, was a harder task.  

Slowly, he found his leadership style. Rather than focus on individual scores, he encouraged teamwork and learning. When his platoon lost at the year-end honor competition, he still celebrated their small improvements. 

Bit by bit, he developed his goals and ambitions. On top of marksmanship, he picked up rifle-spinning in the Armed Exhibition team. After all the awards and all the lunchtimes lost to practice, he gained a newfound confidence for trying new things. 

Eventually, what started as pressure to fill his older sister’s shoes became a desire to find his own role. 

“I wanted to be in the place where I could make the biggest difference,” he said.

In his senior year, Jason earned the title of marksmanship captain and was promoted to Commanding Officer. On the surface, he fulfilled the jobs that were expected of him. But when a younger cadet tells him that he’s their role model, Jason knows that he’s more than his sister’s follower. 

Being someone people looked up to, he said, was the most rewarding job of all.

In the fall, Jason will attend college at the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology for computer science, an interest he found and nurtured throughout high school. When Jason looks back on the past four years, he realizes that he’s grown up. The freshman boy who could barely speak above a whisper, he said, is gone. And while the fear of failure still remains, Jason considers it very different.

“I’m still a little afraid of failing, but in the end I’m afraid of failing to be who I want to be,” he said.

So Jason moves on to the next stage of his life, out of the shadow and into the sun.

Marksmanship captain Jason Heflinger (12) aims at a target during practice, May 20. Photo by Alice Chen.