Senior Profile: Woodward Tran, Cary High School

  • Cary High's Woodward Tran in uniform and cap

    June 13, 2022

    Senior: Woodward Tran

    School: Cary High School

    College: Virginia Military Institute

    Major: Engineering

    Honor. Courage. Commitment. The U.S. Navy’s core values are weighty for a teenager, but Woodward Tran has modeled them daily in the classrooms and training fields of Cary High School. As the executive officer for Cary High’s Navy Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (NJROTC), Woodward has his sights set on his immediate future at Virginia Military Institute’s (VMI) Navy ROTC program and a career in the U.S. Navy. 

    Following family tradition

    For Woodward, a future in the Navy is more than just a career goal. It is a personal calling, a family tradition, an act of service and gratitude. Woodward’s father, Khanh Tran, was one of hundreds of thousands of refugees who fled Vietnam in the decades following the end of the Vietnam War. He was rescued by a U.S. Navy ship in 1987 and eventually made his way to the United States. As a way of giving back to the country that saved him, Khanh Tran joined the Navy, and today he serves as a Lt. Commander in the Navy Reserve.   

    Woodward and his three older brothers - John, Jeff and Keith Tran - honor their father’s service by following his lead. 

    “It was our idea to follow our father because this country took him in when he was in his time of need,” said Woodward. “We thought we would give back to the country.”

    Like his older brothers, Woodward excelled in the NJROTC program at Cary High. Like them, he earned a four-year Navy ROTC scholarship to attend a military college. And like them, he plans to enter the Navy as an officer upon graduating from college. Currently all of Woodward’s brothers serve in the Navy.

    Retired Chief Petty Officer Benjamin Heath, Cary High NJROTC instructor, worked with all four Tran brothers during their time at Cary High and attributes their collective success to a strong family with a strong, disciplined worth ethic. Even in high school, these boys had the commitment, seriousness and drive of men, Heath said. 

    Woodward Tran, Cary HS NJROTC with sword

    Learning to lead

    When Woodward first joined Cary High’s NJROTC as a ninth-grader, he expected the program to mature him. Four years later, he’s surprised by how significant the impact has been. 

    “Without [NJROTC], I would have just been another quiet kid,” said Woodward. “It has allowed me to think outside the box and overcome all kinds of challenges.”

    This quiet kid threw himself into every aspect of NJROTC, from his Naval Sciences coursework to academic, marksmanship and drill teams and competitions. Over time, he embraced his instructors’ lessons of positive leadership and put them into practical use. In his senior year, Woodward served as executive officer, together with the commanding officer leading 120 cadets in every aspect of the program. He was instrumental in helping his unit earn the Distinguished Unit Award for 2022, given to the top 20 percent of NJROTC programs in the nation.

    “He has led by example and inspired other cadets to improve physically, academically and with their moral character,” said Commander Gregory Erickson, Cary High senior naval science instructor. “He instills in the cadets the Navy core values of honor, courage and commitment.”

    In Woodward’s view, his fellow cadets are key to his success. 

    “We’re basically like family,” said Woodward. “I’ve developed a lot of friendships with that group and they’ve pushed me to push past my limits and strive for higher things. I’m very thankful; I don’t think I‘d be where I am without them.” 

    Bringing discipline to the classroom

    The qualities that brought Woodward success in his unit helped him excel academically. An honors student with an impressive GPA and a keen interest in math, Woodward approached his schoolwork with discipline. 

    In his senior year, Woodward balanced the demands of NJROTC leadership and a challenging academic schedule that included two advanced placement (AP) math courses. He stood out among his peers for his daily commitment to his work, said Cary High math teacher Justin Boggus, who teaches Woodward’s AP Calculus class. Even after missing days of school for a national NJROTC competition, Woodward showed up to his calculus class on his first day back prepared for a test. 

    Charting the future

    As Woodward approaches college, the first step in his naval career, his ambition is limitless. He intends to study engineering at VMI, and will enter the Navy as an officer upon graduation. Following his father and brothers’ example of serving their country, Woodward is planning a naval career that far exceeds the ROTC program’s required commitment. Woodward expressed interest in becoming a Navy SEAL, and has even accepted his NJROTC commander’s challenge to become an admiral.  

    When asked what motivates him to excel in everything he does, Woodward, with a grin, gave an age-old response: sibling rivalry.