by Lori Shull
“At the time, it was terrible. Looking back, it was the best thing that could have happened.”
Tech ROTC Golden Eagle Battalion Cadet Commander Caleb Anderson knows what he’s talking about. The senior interdisciplinary studies major was starting to make a name for himself in Tech ROTC when the U.S. Army Cadet Command threatened to shut it down. He and the other cadets were forced to choose between ROTC and TTU until the Army changed its mind.
In the two years since, the battalion has received a new lease on life. Enrollment is up more than a third, cadets receive more realistic hands-on training and Golden Eagle alumni have joined forces to help the cadets and to ensure the program remains a vital part of campus culture.
“Those of us who have been here and gone through this program view these cadets in the same way as the ROTC program does,” said retired Lt. Col. Jim Pippin, ’79 industrial technology. “We’ve been through it too; they are ours.”
More than 150 alumni have volunteered to be part of the alumni association, whose goals include establishing a leadership program for cadets, assisting with student recruitment and raising money for scholarships and other opportunities. Pippin serves as the association’s chairman.
In the past year, the group has met only a few times, but already has helped to sponsor several ROTC fundraisers, including a 5K and a golf scramble; sent cadets to leadership conferences; and hosted two panels with ROTC alumni, both active-duty and retired.
“It’s been a 50-50 partnership,” said retired Lt. Col. Ron Borden, Tech ROTC recruiting operations officer. “They’ll come up with some ideas, we’ll come up with some ideas and float something by them to ask their opinions. Then they’re running downfield with the ball.”
Support from the alumni association, which is actively seeking additional members, is one part of the cadre’s plan to continue strengthening the Golden Eagle Battalion.
The battalion’s mission from the Army is to commission 12 lieutenants every year, including two nurses and at least four from science, technology, engineering or math disciplines. To do that, the ROTC cadre is focusing on recruiting the right students and mentoring them on campus.
“The image we project is you have a warrior-varsity athlete combined with an honor society member,” said Lt. Col. Stephen Peterson, military science professor. “We really need that critical thinker, that very engaged academic student who has the ability to go on the gridiron and make a difference with the team.”
Tech ROTC students develop the physical and mental skills to be Army leaders in classroom activities and labs. Until this year, those labs have taken place on campus. Cadets have learned land navigation in Sherlock Park and tried to familiarize themselves with weapons by reading diagrams and watching YouTube videos.
All that changed this year. In their weekly labs, cadets have gone paintballing, practiced squad movements at the Tech farm, learned land navigation at Cummins Falls, and trained with weapons systems hands-on at the Cookeville National Guard Armory.
“We don’t want to be known as the school that doesn’t know how to use weapons,” said accounting major Daniel Williams, who has been in the National Guard for nine years and organized the armory trip. “Since these cadets will be officers, they will have to show someone someday how to use them.”
At Cummins Falls, 37 new cadets, members of the 65th Tech ROTC class, received their battalion patches. Thirteen others contracted with the Army, agreeing to serve for eight years and the three graduating seniors, including Anderson, were recognized for accepting active duty assignments. The contracting and active-duty cadets jumped off the waterfall to commemorate their commitments.
“This trip to Cummins is a new tradition; we’ve never done this before,” Peterson said during the ceremony. “When you put on this patch, you’ll know that it means something and when you look back on this day, you‘ll know you were a part of something better than yourself.”
That organization has commissioned approximately 1,600 second lieutenants from Tennessee Tech. ROTC has been on campus since 1950; its first officers graduated in 1954. One of those, retired Col. Jim Stallard, ’54 accounting, came back at the end of the fall semester to participate in an alumni panel.
The leadership panel gave cadets the chance to find out more about being an Army officer. They asked questions about balancing family life and a military career, opportunities for nurses and physicians assistants, and the qualities of a leader.
“It’s amazing to watch these alumni connect with 18- and 20-year old cadets,” said alumni association secretary Liz Pippin, ’78, ’85 M.A. English. “Some of these men are heroes and to give these cadets the contact with that caliber of person, who has been there and done that and done it well, makes a difference.”
Many in the association are former members of the Rebel Rifles drill team. Now that the group is established, members are seeking ideas and input to determine goals for the present and distant future. For more information, contact Jim Pippin at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“It doesn’t matter if they graduated in 1954 or 2002. They all say ‘Yes, ROTC was a critical leadership-shaping effort at Tech. When I graduated and commissioned, I was set for success, whether it was the Army or corporate America,’” Peterson said. “I’m really proud of the 64 classes that came before this one; there’s a long purple line that connects them all.”