SDSU's Samantha Gortmaker earns Legion of Valor award

Samantha Gortmaker

BROOKINGS – Samantha Gortmaker, a South Dakota State University Air Force ROTC cadet from Pierre, is the recipient of the Legion of Valor Bronze Cross for Achievement.

Established in 1957, the Bronze Cross for Achievement is the highest award for achievement in ROTC programs. Gortmaker is one of only four Air Force ROTC cadets nationwide to receive the award. The award recognizes one cadet in each Air Force ROTC region who has demonstrated excellence in military and academic performance.

Gortmaker, who carries a 3.9 GPA, is the second SDSU cadet to receive the award. The first was cadet Cole Jorgensen in 2016.

The 2018 T.F. Riggs High School graduate has been recognized for several other accomplishments, including being selected a distinguished graduate in her field training encampment in 2021 and as a 2022 SDSU commencement speaker. However, the Legion of Valor award stands out among the rest.

“I was quite shocked to receive a phone call in the middle of my summer to say I received the Bronze Cross for Achievement,” said Gortmaker. “It was the diligent work of my former detachment commander, Col. Haufschild, that gave me this opportunity, so I felt incredibly grateful to have such advocates in my professional life.”

She said the award acts as a reminder of the people who have invested so much in her, especially in the Air Force ROTC program at SDSU. “AFROTC has been the training ground for me to learn how to fail, how to plan, to listen and to lead. I am better equipped, coming out of this program, to be a force of change and good. I cannot wait to wear the uniform of the Air Force every day.”

Lt. Col. Erin Tedesco, commander of SDSU’s AFROTC detachment, said she couldn’t be prouder of Gortmaker. 

“Time and again, she has been identified by both her instructors and her peers as an exceptional leader,” Tedesco said. “I’m thrilled, but not surprised, that the Legion of Valor agreed. I have no doubt Cadet Gortmaker will be a great credit to this detachment and SDSU throughout her Air Force career,” Tedesco said.

Gortmaker will graduate in May 2023 with her master’s in economics and will commission as an active duty officer the evening of commencement. Following, she will fly with the Air Force as a combat systems officer.

She will receive the award publicly at 6 p.m. Thursday in the Hobo Day Gallery. Rex Gooch, a representative from the Legion of Valor, will present the award. Gooch, a U.S. Army Vietnam veteran, is formerly of Sioux Falls. He and his wife will travel from Texas to present the award to Gortmaker.

Gortmaker is the daughter of Bryan and Brenda Gortmaker, formerly of Pierre.