University of Iowa graduating senior James Huerta, who enrolled in the Army ROTC during college, will be an officer at the Army’s flight school at Fort Rucker in Alabama, where he ultimately hopes to fly Black Hawk helicopters.
Richard C. Lewis
Justin Torner

James Huerta’s decisions have paid off handsomely.

He joined the military because it would pay for college. He chose to attend the University of Iowa because it has a well-regarded business school. He majored in finance because he wants to be monetarily secure.

“For much of my life, I have stuck to what I’ve thought is right, and it’s helped me to achieve things that I never believed would be possible for somebody in my situation,” says Huerta, who will graduate in December.

James Huerta
  • Degree: BBA in finance
  • Hometown: Sioux Center, Iowa
  • Future plans: As a U.S. Army commissioned officer, report to Fort Rucker in Alabama for flight school, the first step toward eventually flying Black Hawk helicopters.

Huerta grew up in Sioux Center, Iowa, the Northwest Iowa town where his single mother decided to settle with him, his two younger brothers, and his sister after emigrating from Mexico to the United States. The first night they were in the U.S., Huerta, one of his brothers, and his mother slept on the floor because they had no beds. Huerta’s mother worked at a meatpacking plant, then an egg factory, and later with Pella Industries.

Though the family struggled financially, Huerta says, it was a loving, happy household.

“I have a lot of my respect for my mom,” Huerta says. “She put in these long work hours, but she was still able to come back, make meals, and be there for us. Even though we weren’t always the most well off, we had everything we needed. It was the best she could have done.”

While in high school, Huerta answered a call on his phone from a military recruiter. He agreed to allow the recruiter to visit with him and his mother at their home.

The recruiter made his pitch: The military offered the opportunity to grow personally and professionally, and there were other benefits, including paying for college.

“My mom was a little sketched out at first,” Huerta recalls. “In her mind, me choosing to join the Army, she had seen some of those old war movies where the infantryman gets gunned down. She was picturing that image with me. But I told her I wanted to do it, and she signed off on it.”

“For much of my life, I have stuck to what I’ve thought is right, and it’s helped me to achieve things that I never believed would be possible for somebody in my situation.”

James Huerta
graduating senior at the University of Iowa

At the time, the main reason why Huerta signed up was so he could pursue a college degree.

“I had always told myself I wanted to go to college. My mom had always wanted me to go to college, even though she hadn’t,” Huerta says. “She knew that college would be the way to go.”

Huerta joined the Army ROTC corps at Iowa. As a cadet in ROTC (he’ll become a commissioned officer upon graduation), he leads more than 20 cadets in morning physical fitness drills and training sessions in light infantry tactics and other soldiering techniques, among other duties. He also is a mentor to cadets with similar academic interests.


The Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) is a way for young men and women to start strong in life. The college elective for undergraduate and graduate students provides unrivalled leadership training for success in any career field.

“I really liked ROTC,” Huerta says. “I was able to be part of a group and make new friends. I was able to begin a part of what I wanted to do in life, such as aviation. I was also able to do a bunch of cool opportunities like the Ranger Challenge.”

It was at the Task Force Ranger Challenge Competition in 2019 where Huerta met Chris Janis for the first time. Janis, a master sergeant and senior military science instructor in the ROTC program, had just joined Iowa when he went to Sundown Mountain Resort in Dubuque to observe the two-day event, where cadets from ROTC units from universities in several states were competing.

Huerta led his nine-person team in one of the final events, a foot march where each member lugged a 50-pound pack across hilly terrain.

“What I noticed was James not only pushing himself, but pushing that team to push even harder because he wanted to win the event so badly,” Janis recalls. “It got to the point when the team crossed the finish line, James’ lips were just white from being so dehydrated.”

“To see him push himself to that extreme to help his team try to win, that was pretty impressive,” Janis adds.

Janis says Huerta embodies the ideals of an ROTC cadet and a military officer.

“James is the type of individual we want leading the formations in our nation’s military,” Janis says. “He truly builds trust. He’s physically fit. He helps others. He has the vast majority of attributes and competencies we are looking for in an individual as they commission in the United States Army.”

Huerta similarly threw himself into his studies at the Tippie College of Business. He initially considered majoring in accounting but switched to finance because he was intrigued by methods of creating and managing wealth.

Finance at Iowa

Finance is one of the three most popular majors at the University of Iowa, and for good reason: Tippie finance grads are making a name for themselves in real estate, investment banking, hedge fund management, and a host of other fields.

“With my family’s financial struggles, I want to be educated in the whole field of finance, not only to benefit myself, but to help my mom, and not to fall into the same traps that my family did growing up,” he says.

That practical perspective showed in Huerta’s conversations with Nicholas Kavanaugh, his academic adviser in Tippie. Kavanaugh calls Huerta a model student who always came well prepared to his academic advising meetings.

“He has really challenged himself in the finance courses he has chosen and taken,” says Kavanaugh, assistant director for experiential learning at Tippie. “With ROTC and his other commitments, it seems like a student could take the easy way out. James has not. I think he seems to really value getting the most out of his educational experience.”

Huerta also wants to get the most out of his experience with the Army. After he graduates, Huerta will report to Fort Rucker in Alabama for flight school, the first step toward eventually flying Black Hawk helicopters. At some point—it will take time to build up the flight hours—Huerta would like to fly for an air ambulance service.

“I always figured my end goal would be flying helicopters for a hospital, like a MedFlight kind of deal,” he says.