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NC State Alumna Named U.S. Air Force Cadet of the Year

Hannah Fletcher dressed in paratrooper gear in the back of a plane holds up her hands in wolfie signs

Hannah Fletcher (Mechanical Engineering and International Studies ’21) has taken Coach Jim Valvano’s 1993 quote “Don’t give up, don’t ever give up” to heart. She joined NC State Air Force ROTC Det. 595 two years later than most of her peers, completing a traditionally four to five year program in only three. After graduation, she learned that no other student in 25 years had managed to simultaneously complete the rigorous Benjamin Franklin Scholars program while balancing the 10-20 hours a week commitment to Air Force ROTC. 

The homeschooler from Chatham County, N.C. excelled despite all of these challenges and went on to become the cadet wing commander for Det. 595, graduating top of her class. Her achievements were recognized nationally as she won the title of 2021 U.S. Air Force Cadet of the Year — the first NC State student to earn the honor. In doing so, she outcompeted over 4,000 other seniors attending universities ranging from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill to Duke, Harvard to Stanford. Furthermore, she also beat out all U.S. Air Force Academy and Officer Training School cadets.

“I struggled at first to adjust to ROTC and initially ranked in the bottom-third of my class,” Fletcher recalled. “So to not only complete the program but earn its most prestigious honor is surreal.”

Hannah Fletcher in her official U.S. Air Force portrait
Hannah Fletcher

The Cadet of the Year award is sponsored by the British Royal Air Squadron and pays tribute to the close ties between the American and British Air Forces throughout the years. It recognizes the best cadet in an Air Force commissioning program based on military performance, academics and physical fitness. The winners are usually awarded at a ceremony with the Air Force Chief of Staff at the Pentagon. Fletcher was selected from a competitive national pool of Air Force Academy, ROTC and Officer Training School cadets. Her cadre first nominated Fletcher during her senior year at NC State, and she went on to be named the top cadet in the Southeast and one of four finalists for the national award. 

Lt Col Steven Jordan, commander of NC State’s Air Force Det 595, had the privilege of calling Fletcher to give her the good news.

“The Det 595 team is incredibly proud of Hannah and everything she accomplished at NC State,” Jordan said. “She’s done an amazing job representing the Wolfpack Warriors of Det 595, and we are excited to see what she’ll accomplish in her Air Force career. Hannah worked tremendously hard while at NC State, and the Air Force Cadet of the Year award is a well-deserved honor.”

Hannah Fletcher and her fellow cadets from NC State pose with Chancellor Randy Woodson after her graduation ceremony
Hannah Fletcher and her fellow cadets from NC State pose with Chancellor Randy Woodson after her graduation ceremony

At NC State, Fletcher didn’t just excel in Air Force ROTC. She studied abroad several times, including trips to Poland, China and Taiwan. She was also a member of the University Honors Program and was active in Arts NC State programming, particularly at the pottery studio in the Crafts Center. Additionally, she played club water polo, was a small group leader for the Catholic Ministry and volunteered at the Daniels Center and with New Mind Education, where she helped Chinese ESL students with English. She was also part of Air Force ROTC’s honor guard, which presents the American flag at Wolfpack sporting events. As a die-hard fan of the Wolfpack, she went to as many football and basketball games as possible.

Hannah Fletcher in China
Hannah Fletcher on one of her study abroad trips to China

Following her graduation in May 2021, Fletcher’s involvement in Air Force ROTC continued to provide incredible opportunities. She was one of three students selected for an internship with the Department of Energy in Livermore, California, where she conducted research with the additive manufacturing division at Lawrence Livermore National Labs.

“ROTC was the catalyst that opened a lot of doors for me,” Fletcher said. “The Lawrence Livermore internship, in particular, was an ROTC specific program. I had the opportunity to work in a world-class explosives research facility on cutting edge technology with leading scientists and engineers.”

Fletcher outside of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
Fletcher outside of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

Fletcher moved to Mississippi in January 2022 and is enrolled in flight school. She recently began the intensive flight program known as undergraduate pilot training, where she’ll learn to fly the T-6 Texan II. “I’ll be performing aerobatics and formation flying, a lot of things you saw in Top Gun just in a slightly slower aircraft,” Fletcher laughed.

In addition to pilot training, Fletcher is working towards a master’s degree in NC State’s electrical engineering program and has taken Chinese courses through the Air Force’s Language Enabled Airman Program (LEAP).

Now among the Air Force ROTC alumni ranks, Fletcher reflected on her journey.

“Air Force ROTC helped connect me with the university and offered a challenge unlike anything else at NCSU,” she said. “Ultimately, the award recognizes far more than my achievements. It is a testament to both the opportunities available at NC State and the efforts of everyone who helped me get to where I am today.”

If you are interested in learning more about Air Force ROTC opportunities at NC State, please contact the Det. 595 office at 919-515-2417, or visit the website at

This post was originally published in DASA.