Cadet Cesar Ibarra Jr. just wants to make the most of this academic year at Virginia Tech.

Ibarra, a junior in Air Force ROTC majoring in physics in the College of Science, returned to campus two weeks before the start of classes as part of the upper-class training cadre for new cadets, where he stood out for his ability to teach and motivate the first-year cadets in his unit.

He also helped to start a tutoring program for cadets, giving in-person help to navigate online classes and prepare for semester tests.

As a result of both efforts, the cadet leadership named Ibarra the honorary flag cadet for Saturday’s football game against Duke, calling attention to his ability to boost morale and to build relationships.

“He is a great team player and only wants his freshmen and those around him to do well,” according to the nomination by six of his cadet peers.

The recognition is part of a longstanding partnership between the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets and the Virginia Tech football team to highlight the colors during the pre-game ceremony at every football game.

Three football players, chosen because of their performance in the last game or at practice, carry the American flag, the state flag, and the team’s spirit flag and lead the team onto the field.

At home games, they deliver the flags to three first-year cadets at the south end of the field, also selected based on their performance in the corps. For away games this year, an upper-class cadet will be recognized as an honorary flag cadet.

As a member of the training cadre, Ibarra says he draws upon his own experiences as a new cadet, learning the basics of marching and navigating a military environment.

“You have to be patient,” he says. “Simple stuff under all the stress turns into hard stuff.”

Ibarra, whose parents immigrated from Mexico, will be the first in his family to join the military, so marching and the military lifestyle was new to him, too.

He earned a four-year Air Force scholarship, as well as a Corps’ Emerging Leader Scholarship, and has long wanted to be a pilot – though a training opportunity with the space operations training exercise through the Joint Task Force — Space Defense, a section of the U.S. Space Command, last spring could sway him in a slightly different direction.

After the spring semester was disrupted by COVID-19, he says he just grateful to be back on campus and able to make a difference.

“To teach someone and have them understand something gives me a lot of gratitude,” he says.

Since becoming a cadre sergeant in August and starting tutoring in early September, Ibarra has helped more than 30 cadets improve their grades and military proficiency, according to his nomination.