BEALE AIR FORCE BASE, California -- As the night sky blankets overhead, the lights come on. The loud roaring sound of two sides trying to best each other can be heard from a distance. And for a brief moment, anxiety riddles and rattles through the bodies of each team until the opening kickoff sails down field. After that, it comes down to which team has an edge over the other.
As a cheerleader, game nights were where the gridiron battles erupted for 1st Lt. Haley McClain Hill, 9th Maintenance Squadron (MXS) section commander, and has provided many values she still carries with her today as a United States Air Force (USAF) officer.
McClain Hill now leads more than 300 Airmen and is responsible for an estimated $9.8 million in Air Force assets.
“My passion for cheer is very clear in all aspects of my life,” McClain Hill said. “It has instilled a sense of community and positivity. I was surrounded by intelligent, successful, highly motivated and caring men and women on the teams I cheered for. Some of them were entrepreneurs, doctors, scientists, moms, and some have even competed in Olympic trials. I was surrounded by people who were always striving to be the best version of themselves.”
For the Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania native, cheer didn’t catch McClain Hill’s interest until high school.
“I was a competitive dancer starting at the age of five and did gymnastics concurrently,” McClain Hill said. “Once I noticed how involved the cheerleaders were with the school, I decided to try it out my freshman year.”
Little did she know, this would bring on an expansive career in cheer from high school, to the NFL.
“I went out there, as a freshman, having felt like I needed to prove myself,” McClain Hill said. “In over 10 years, I was the first freshman to make the varsity team. With my tumbling skills and dance ability, the coach thought I belonged on the more experienced team.”
This was a different world for McClain Hill, whose mother worried about her being around the older girls but knew with her skill level that she needed to be challenged.
“I cheered for my high school and also did a year of all-star cheer, which is a competitive team outside of school,” McClain Hill said. “With all my experience, I felt confident to make a collegiate team.”
Not knowing where to attend college, yet alone where to apply, McClain Hill knew she needed to earn a scholarship.
“As I was looking for scholarships and deciding which college to apply to, my grandmother came across the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (AFROTC) program,” McClain Hill said. “She thought it was an avenue I might enjoy, and she wasn’t wrong.”
After receiving a scholarship to any in-state school, McClain Hill decided to attend Pennsylvania State University (Penn State).
Taking an AFROTC scholarship was a huge commitment for McClain Hill; and even more so, it was outside of her comfort zone. She stepped up, challenged herself, and conquered it.
“Penn State was a whole different beast compared to high school,” she said. “My coaches demanded perfection at games, because we were such a huge school and for the football games alone, we were cheering for more than 100,000 people.”
During her time at Penn State, she cheered for many of the sports programs, the Universal Cheerleading Association National Competition, The Rose Bowl, and the NCAA Big 10 Basketball Tournament where she was offered a pass to the last round of auditions for the Miami Dolphins Cheer Team.
“I never thought of cheering professionally before then,” McClain Hill said. “It was such an amazing opportunity to fly down to Miami for a prep clinic with their team. I was still unsure where the Air Force was going to station me after commissioning through the ROTC program, so I told them I would have to get back to them.”
Upon graduating Penn State and commissioning in the USAF, McClain Hill applied for the Gold Bar Recruiting Program, where officers recruit for an ROTC detachment for one year in a major city.
“I applied for the Gold Bar program with Miami as my first choice and Atlanta as my second,” McClain Hill said. “Though I didn’t get my first choice, I had so many great opportunities and accomplished so much in Atlanta.”
During McClain Hill’s time in Atlanta, she auditioned for the Falcons Cheer Team and made the cut.
“At that point, I was in Atlanta as a commissioned officer and an NFL cheerleader with a schedule that kept me very busy,” she said. “During the weekdays, I’d be at schools and other youth events to assist with recruiting, and then at night I’d be at cheer practice. It was nonstop for me.”
Three years after leaving Atlanta for Beale AFB, she continues to carry the values she gained over her distinguished career as a cheerleader. She has since implemented those leadership and life lessons into her role as an officer.
“If you have a dream in life, you cannot accomplish it alone, you need a team of people around you,” McClain Hill said. “My time in the Air Force solidified just that. I continuously lean on my wingmen for their guidance and most importantly their support. Cheerleading rooted these principles.”
*The information in this publication is provided as a resource and does not constitute an endorsement by Beale Air Force Base, the United States Air Force, or the Department of Defense.