To alleviate the financial stress of college, Howard Payne University soccer player and cheerleader Ta’Kenda Cotton enlisted in the Texas Army National Guard.

“Paying for college is a hard thing to do,” Cotton said. “Being one of seven kids, I didn’t want it to be hard on my parents. I wanted to do something to help them.”

A 2008 graduate of Brownwood High School, Cotton, 19, decided to not leave for basic training until she completed her freshman year at HPU, taking part in the “split-option” training program. This program allows the enlistee to attend basic training and Advanced Individual Training (AIT) at a later date.

“There were some things I wanted to get started, like school, so doing it this way helped me out a lot,” Cotton said. “Plus, I wanted to come back and play soccer.”

During an eight-week basic training cycle at Fort Jackson, S.C., Cotton became familiar with military customs and courtesies, drill and ceremony, weaponry, land navigation and physical training. Cotton graduated July 24.

“My family was excited to see me and were crying — but my dad was the most excited and proud,” Cotton said. “My friends haven’t had a chance to see me in uniform yet.”

Cotton will head to Fort Lee, Va., located outside of Richmond, April 2010 for AIT where, she will learn her MOS (Military Occupation Specialty).

“I will be working in supply,” Cotton said, noting that she signed a six-year contract.

Cotton said certain aspects learned in basic training will have an influence on her life at HPU.

“I think the general orders and the values we were taught will help me as an athlete and also guide me in how I act,” Cotton said.

After graduating from AIT, Cotton will be assigned to the 111 Engineers at Camp Bowie, but understands that being a full-time student, Guardsman, soccer player and cheerleader may be difficult.

“I am sure it is going to be hard to balance, but I can do it,” Cotton said. “I don’t quit and am able to do everything I set my mind to.”

Cotton said the decision to enlist is a win-win situation.

“The National Guard provides a lot of opportunities, and obviously helps with college. But, at the same time, I will be working hard to pay them back. This is exciting.”