On the Front Lines: The Lasting Impact of ROTC Instructors

We are delighted to bring you the entire collection of ROTC instructor stories here. Scroll through or click to jump straight to the exclusive online stories.

“With a little humility, application of effort, and a rooted foundation, these Norwich students will become what this country needs them to be: leaders.”
– Marine Capt. Richard Benning M’17, present-day Norwich ROTC instructor

Marine Capt. Richard Benning M’17, a Norwich Naval ROTC instructor, leads a coaching session before the fall 2016 Hoplite battle. (Mark Collier.)

Marine Capt. Richard Benning M’17, a Norwich Naval ROTC instructor, leads a coaching session before the fall 2016 Hoplite battle. (Mark Collier.)

ROTC instructors form the bedrock of cadets’ military experience at Norwich. Active duty officers and enlisted personnel, they are responsible for teaching future leaders to lead, protect, survive, and, most important, serve. Even after they rotate out, their stories remain forever intertwined with yours. Retired Army Col. Ron Lotz ’60 reminded us of this in a recent correspondence to President Schneider, writing, “One of the very important aspects of life at the university were the members of the Army ROTC detachment—officers and enlisted men who set the example to which to strive.” His outreach inspired us to reach out to you, and your response was overwhelming. We are delighted to present these excerpted selections of your recollections of ROTC instructors.

The Wise Man Gathers Himself

Delta Company had a complete screw-up rook in the fall of 1965. Purportedly the son of a U.S. Army general, he clearly wanted to be somewhere other than the top floor of Patterson Hall that year. Since collective punishment was the leadership standard of the time, 27 rooks paid the price when that miscreant polished his shoes with sandpaper, relieved himself out of his window before sunrise on a Saturday morning, and generally defied the system with a goofball, Gomer Pyle attitude.

Anticipating a painful outcome, we all continuously waited to see what he would do next. The crowning blow came on a Tuesday afternoon during personal inspection by Staff Sergeant Jennings, the most buttoned-down U.S. Army NCO any of us had ever met. Everyone strived to match his crisp appearance in starched and pressed fatigues while trying at all costs to avoid his considerable skill at whittling someone down to his diminutive size with perfectly formed vitriol delivered in the staccato of a .50 cal.

Stopping with precision and executing a “right face” in front of each squad member, we all knew it was only a matter of time. With three to go, anticipation grew. Our company commander led the procession, followed by Jennings, followed by our platoon sergeant. Each precise turn brought them one rook closer to our nemesis. Two to go. Stop. Right face. Inspection arms. Comments. Pause. Port arms. Left face. Step forward. One to go. The inspections had gone well, almost too well. Was it too much to hope for? Could we make it through this inspection unscathed? Hope against hope. Left face. Step forward. Right face. Inspection arms. The M1 rose, perfectly transferring with precision from the right to the left hand as the rifle crossed in front of the rook diagonally. The right hand dropped crisply and grasped the stock while the left hand almost simultaneously moved to throw open the receiver.

That was the moment when all hell broke loose. Instead of seeing a spotless receiver properly presented in accordance with the manual of arms, Jennings saw a projectile launched directly at him. As it bounced off his rather prodigious chest, all those who were in close proximity recognized it as the follower assembly. Rage darkened Jennings’ face as every vein began throbbing in unison. Muscles stiffened and hair stood up as Jennings prepared for a tirade that never came. In its place, Jennings instructed our company commander to make a point of properly instructing our classmate in the correct procedure for disassembling and assembling his weapon. For the rooks of Delta Company, the instruction included three hours of pushups on a Sunday morning with a brief respite for church services.

Staff Sergeant Jennings taught 28 rooks an invaluable lesson that day. When the urge to retaliate against an unforeseen attack upon the senses is overwhelming, the wise man gathers himself and delivers a controlled, understated response.

–Walter R. Franklin ’69

Option C

In the late ’60s, ROTC programs at many colleges and universities came under extreme pressure from academia, student protest organizations, and antiwar elements demanding concessions to ROTC programs, ranging from the elimination of the department altogether, to relegating the program to an extracurricular activity, to not recognizing the ROTC instructors as professors.
In response, the Army developed a pilot program, known as “Option C.” Out of 280 college-based programs that offered senior ROTC programs nationwide, 11 universities agreed to test the initiative. The Army selected 22 officers who were to obtain master’s degrees—11 in history and 11 in political science—and implement the program. I was one of the 22, obtaining a Master of Political Science with a concentration in international relations and a minor in European diplomacy.

I was assigned to Rose Polytechnic Institute located in Terre Haute, Ind.; there, ROTC was mandatory for all freshman and sophomores. During the ’60s, long hair was en vogue, as was facial hair. With no authority over the grooming or appearance of the students, the ROTC department decided not to issue uniforms to the freshman and sophomore classes. However, as the advanced ROTC program for juniors and seniors was voluntary and we had authority over grooming, uniforms were issued to these students.

The Option C Program at these institutions was a distinct departure from the typical ROTC course of instruction provided at other institutions. It accomplished the objectives and defused many of the anti-ROTC challenges. I left Rose Poly in June of 1970 for Vietnam, so I am not sure as to how long the program continued.

It should be noted that in addition to our ROTC instructor duty, all of the officers at Rose Poly were detailed by the Fifth U.S. Army Headquarters to notify next of kin and act as Survivor Assistance Officers for the families of soldiers killed in Vietnam. Our area of responsibility included portions of both southern Indiana and Illinois. Needless to say, this was a difficult and trying duty.
In summary, my duty as an ROTC instructor was challenging, interesting, and very rewarding.

–Retired Army Col. Paul Valvo ’60

Remembering Major Hussey

While I was at Norwich I was privileged to have had Major George E. Hussey as an ROTC instructor. Major Hussey came to Norwich as a young Army Captain having graduated from West Point and recently completed a tour in Vietnam. He had served there as an advisor to the Montagnard (mountain people) and he proudly wore to our classes a brass friendship bracelet they had given to him as a sign of their respect. Hussey related to us how brave these tribal people were and how valiantly they fought alongside American troops.

Hussey seemed to enjoy his time at Norwich, where he was popular and well respected by the Corps. He was a great mentor. We certainly appreciated his quick wit and ability to make “mil” classes interesting. On completing his all-too-brief time as an NU ROTC instructor, he departed to serve his second combat tour. It was just a short time later, in the spring of 1970, that we were all deeply saddened to learn Major Hussey had been killed in action during the incursion of Cambodia.

Major Hussey impacted his students in many ways. The goodness of the man was evident to anyone that came in contact with him, as he was clearly a devoted family man and a patriot. His loss also brought the war home to us in a personal way. He represented the “best and brightest” our country can produce and therefore, despite his tragic death, he remained a role model for us all to emulate as we pursued horizons beyond Norwich. I know he was a hero to this cadet.

–James J. Degnan ’70
Retired President, Florida Agents

What Makes Norwich ROTC Better?

I have thought about this question a lot lately, and I might give a different perspective than other Norwich alumni. Here is why. I was a Norwich cadet from 1958 to 1962. I was on the faculty of the United States Military Academy from 1973 to 1976. And, I was fortunate to serve as the Professor of Military Science (Army ROTC) at Norwich from 1988 to 1993.

As a Norwich cadet I was blessed with an ROTC cadre that included a battle-tested tanker, Master Sergeant Richardson, an old cavalry soldier, Master Sergeant Confessore, and two famous mountain infantrymen, Master Sergeant Hurley and Sergeant First Class Jennings. Our commissioned cadre included Norwich grads and several USMA grads. They were all combat veterans, and some were handpicked by the president, General Ernest Harmon. As cadets, we had day-to-day contact and interaction with those NCOs, learning important leadership principles from combat-tested soldiers.

As a major teaching at West Point, I was struck by how very little hands-on learning the cadets experienced. The day-to-day operation of the Corps of Cadets was conducted by officers from captains to colonels. Cadets made no decisions. Field training was very good, but there was no interaction with NCOs and their perspectives or experiences. As a Norwich grad, I appreciated what I had experienced.
Move forward 12 years and back to Norwich. As the commandant, I was blessed with a great cadre of NCOs, people with names like Dewey, and Gray, and Mauney, and Mott, and Omasta. Many of them from a special forces background who understood listening to expertise and not rank.

What makes Norwich great as a cultivator of America’s leaders is our skill in teaching future leaders to listen to expertise and experience, not to rank only. Respect for soldiers of all ranks is a primary facet. Norwich Forever!

–Retired Army Col. Tim Donovan ’62

The Chief and the Colonel

Senior Airman James “Jim” Petrie had a brief but lasting impression on me during my days on the Hill as I progressed through my courses in both civil engineering and Air Force ROTC.

Years after graduation, while sitting in the golf course snack bar at Langley Air Force Base, a golfer with a familiar face walked in. Neither of us was in uniform, and it had been a good 18-plus years since I’d last seen him.

He approached cautiously, smiling. “Lieutenant Lagerquist?”

I responded, “Well, it’s Lieutenant COLONEL Lagerquist now. Is that you, Airman Petrie?”

“Well, it’s CHIEF Petrie now.”

He was pleased to see I remembered him, as was I about him.

Looking back, I now understand that it was a senior non-commissioned officer who shaped me into the officer I became during my days at Norwich in Air Force ROTC. Incidentally, it was “Chief” Petrie who gave me my very first salute after commissioning; and like a typical college student, I didn’t appreciate his mentoring at the time.

–Retired Air Force Lt. Col.
Erik J. Lagerquist ’92

Sound Advice

When I was at Norwich, then-Captain Steven Gorman gave me some good advice: When you go on active duty, find a senior enlisted member early on to mentor you. That’s something that has always stuck with me. As soon as I got to my first base, I found a TSgt who was extremely helpful in my transition to active duty and in working with, supervising, and leading enlisted. Again, at my second base I found a SMSgt who did the same. I still have officer mentors, of course, but those SNCOs have been critical to getting me where I am today. I’ve frequently been asked during my career if I’m prior service. I’m not, but I take it as a compliment and probably owe it to his advice.

–Air Force Capt. Heather Cohen ’07

“Drop and give me twenty!”

By far, my most motivating instructor was Colonel (then-Major) James Sykes, who was the OIC for Mountain Cold Weather my freshman year. I remember him at the rook orientation calling out, “How many of you cadets are on scholarship?” Several rooks stood up. He then yelled, “Wrong! You’re not cadets—you’re rooks! Drop and give me twenty!”

He was a masterful leader, and his willingness to lead by example no matter what the conditions of training inspired me to push harder. Our FTXs were tactical, strenuous, and full of learning opportunities. We even worked with other ROTC units on a regular basis and spent time with the old 10th Mountain Division veterans.

When I didn’t make the rescue team freshman year, he met with me in his office. He counseled me and then point-blank told me, “You belong on this team. Keep going. It’s where you belong.” His belief in my abilities helped me get onto the team.

He was friendly, humorous, and devoted to his family. I watched him teach his young children how to ski, thoroughly enjoying himself in the weather of Vermont. It was a sad day when my teammates informed me of his passing.

–Paul Parsons ’89,
Mountain Cold Weather Rescue Team

Small World

One of the AFROTC Det 867 instructors in the 1980s was Air Force Major Joyce Hallstrom. The epitome of an “Iron Major,” she was a tough, no-nonsense officer that cadets didn’t want to run into on the Upper Parade ground. Although she was a fine instructor, I think it is fair to say that several cadets were relieved when her Norwich orders ended and she PCSed.

After graduation, I joined a Combat Communications Squadron that deployed to Egypt. Being a young lieutenant, I was assigned night shift as soon as I walked off the airplane. As I crossed the dark barren desert of Cairo West, I ran across none other than Major Hallstrom. Not only was I surprised to see her that night, we were assigned to the same sleeping quarters for the duration overseas. As I interacted with her during that deployment, I found that she was slightly more cordial and perhaps a bit less intimidating than on the Hill, but not by much.

–Air Force Col. Kim (Jones) Baumann ’87

Back on Track: Three Lessons

Over the many years since graduation there are several events which I still remember vividly and they involved my ROTC regular army instructors. These instructors formulated some of my actions as I established a 30-year Army career.

One wintry day in 1960 when I was a senior in the Honor Tank Platoon, we decided to drive our five M48A1 tanks over the small, rough-terrain course located behind the tank shed. Before we finished the course, we had thrown the tracks off all five tanks. Under the tutelage of Master Sergeants Clem Confessore and John Richardson, our group was restricted that weekend in order to place each tank back into operation. Lesson learned—use good judgment and always maintain vehicles and equipment under operational conditions.

One of the many noteworthy ROTC instructors/ advisers was Major Pecoraro, the advisor to the Society of American Military Engineers (SAME). A veteran and POW of the Korean War. I joined the SAME as a business major because many of my cadet friends were engineering majors but mainly due to the strength and dignity Major Pecoraro demonstrated on a daily basis.Lesson learned- dignity even in adversity.
Last but not least was Lt.Col Steckel, ROTC advisor to the Rifle Team along with M/Sgt Cohen. Lt.Col Steckel was always professional, always understanding and always supportive in his dealing with cadets both on and off the “Hill.” Lesson learned: military bearing and good judgement in dealing with subordinates.

I will always remember my cadet years and those who played a part in preparing me for life after graduation.

–Retired Army Col. Ron Lotz ’60

Smokescreen

Major Thomas J. Howard instructed us to always chamber a white phosphorous (WP) round while moving in an area where we might suddenly run into an enemy tank or anti-tank weapon. He said, rarely (in those days) in our Sherman M4A3 E8 tanks would we get a first-round target hit, but that a close WP round would cause smoke to blind the enemy. And, if it didn’t hit the target, it would well mark it for a rapid-adjusted, second-round hit. He was an outstanding Army instructor who stressed the importance of WP so much that we cadets nicknamed him Major “Willie Peter.”

–Retired Army Col. Peter W. Cuthbert ’51

Attitude

Retired Army Lieutenant Colonel Juan Quintero is many things: a two-time Norwich graduate (’94 & M’06), the father of three beautiful daughters, and a loving husband who served a full career in the Army—including a combat tour in Iraq—and now, a coach and teacher in Bristol, Conn. For me, add mentor to that list. As a student at Norwich, I worked for then-Captain Quintero as he prepared the third-year Army ROTC cadets for Advanced Camp. Always challenging and developing those around him, he taught me the greatest lesson about attitude and its effect on your life. Juan would eventually administer my oath as I commissioned into the Army upon graduation. As with each cadet he commissioned, he slipped a piece of paper into my hand which included his contact information and a note with a line from Charles Swindoll’s poem, “Attitude.” It concludes, “I am convinced that life is 10 percent what happens to me and 90 percent how I react to it. And so it is with you.”

–Colm Walker ’05, NUAA Board

Colm Walker ’05 (left) and retired Army Lieutenant Colonel Juan Quintero ’94 & M’06. (Photo courtesy of Colm Walker.)

Colm Walker ’05 (left) and retired Army Lieutenant Colonel Juan Quintero ’94 & M’06. (Photo courtesy of Colm Walker.)

Words to Live By

Sergeant Hunter, a Norwich ROTC instructor, was also assigned to my company at ROTC Summer Camp, Fort Devens, Mass., in the summer of 1966. One hot, muggy afternoon, after a grueling day in the dusty fields training, Sergeant Hunter and I had a chance to sit and chat on the steps leading to our old, wooden WWII barracks. I asked Sergeant Hunter what he looks for in an Army officer.

Without hesitation, in his Kentucky drawl, he stated simply and directly, “the firm and the fair.” That’s it. Crystal clear. Eloquent. Meaningful.
Those words have stuck with me ever since. I taught my sons those words. Two of them graduated from ROTC at different universities and both of them used Sergeant Hunter’s words for not only military service but as coaches, teachers, and businessmen.

–Retired Army Lt. Col. Michael Perrault ’67

Leading with Kindness

After 52 years it is difficult to remember all of the great ROTC instructors who helped us prepare for active duty. However, one in particular stands out to me: Major Branch, USA Signal Corps. Not only was he an excellent instructor, but for me personally his most useful advice came after I graduated. As a commissioned officer it was only a matter of time before Uncle Sam called me to active duty. When my orders came, I was working for IBM in Burlington, Vt. Soon after receiving my orders I called Major Branch and asked if he would meet with me to discuss my call to duty. He graciously set up a meeting a few days later. I was commissioned in the Signal Corps, so his deep knowledge and experience prepared me very well for my three years of active duty. I was an instructor at the Officers Signal School at Fort Monmouth, N.J., for two years. The combination of my Norwich education and Major Branch’s guidance was of immense help in that role. His mentoring became even more valuable when as a young captain I was assigned as commander of C Company, Phu Lam Signal Battalion in Vietnam, 1968. At 25 years of age I was faced with commanding over 150 men. The combination of a Norwich education and the mentoring by Major Branch was instrumental in my success in that role. I lost touch with him many years ago, but I shall never forget his kindness and advice.

–Retired Army Capt. Ed Verock ’65

Training is Serious

Things that stand out: Captain (now retired General Officer) David Fridovich taking a briefing on training when he stated, very emphatically, that a training death is NEVER acceptable. I walked out of that class knowing I would remember that for the rest of my life. Training is serious, not cavalier. Colonel Gerald Chikalla leading PT. He was a tough guy. Always admired him. And doing hand-to-hand in the rain. It was a cold rain.

–Retired Army Lt. Col. John McPherson ’84



 

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“Top that, UVM!”

Rook year (fall of 1948) in the riding hall with the horse faculty. When asked if any of us ever rode horseback before and were comfortable with it, about seven of us (including me) identified ourselves. We were instructed to “mount up” and proceeded to circumvent the hall from “walk” through “go faster.” I loved it and tried hard not to look like I was showing off. I’d been on a neighbor’s horse (E.M. Loew’s trotters) since before 10 years of age. Two classmates fell off and were greeted by “Who the hell gave you permission to dismount.” I suppressed a giggle. I continued my ride until there were about three of us left when the loudest sergeant approached me and in a very loud voice asked “Do you call that riding at attention rook!!” That was my initiation, not terrible. The cadre were all great guys and I was fortunate to be able to spend a great deal of my time that year on horseback with classmates and or with dates.

Top that, UVM!

– Bob Lappin ’51, Norwich Trustee Emeritus

“They made a person out of me.”

I had a very interesting experience while in the ROTC at Norwich. First, selection. I was attracted, as many cadets, to armor. However, at 6’2” and 230 lbs., a tank afforded me very little space. Since I was not an engineer I opted for Signal Corps. Major Hantes was our officer and was assisted by a captain whose name I can’t recall and NCOs. I felt that Major Hantes was an excellent officer and had me thinking of regular Army. One day the captain, for no reason that I could figure out, told me that I was not a proper cadet and would not make a good officer. He never told me of my shortcomings. Flash ahead to Camp Gordon 1954 summer camp. Our platoon officer was this same captain. He was one tough commander and we benefited greatly from his knowledge and leadership. After camp concluded he took me aside and said that he was wrong and that I did an excellent job at the camp. Upon returning to Norwich I was summoned to the office of the PMS&T. Colonel Wells informed me that I was elected Distinguished Military Student

All this perplexed me as I could not think of anything that I had done to rate such an honor. Flash ahead once more. After completing Signal Officers school, I was ordered to Fort Carson. As I was packing my orders were changed. I was to report to Fort Devens. I was saying good-bye when new orders came sending me to Fort Gordon. Upon arriving I was assigned to the Infantry Training Regiments. I was a signal officer. Arriving at my duty station I was assigned as the tactical officer to a platoon of ROTC cadets. Of course there were some Norwich cadets in the platoon. I had to avoid them so as not to be extra tough on them. I followed the routine laid out by that captain a year before. Thankfully. After the camp the platoon honored me by giving me a nice piece of luggage. I still cannot figure all of it out. All I did was be me.

As to my Norwich experience, it made my life. Coach Duke Benz and Bob Priestly and General Harmon changed my life and made a person out of me.

– Martin Wasserman ’55

“I owe my successes to Norwich.”

The ROTC training I received at Norwich was the very best that I could have ever hoped to receive from anywhere. What I learned from my Norwich instructors, both officers and non-commissioned officers, guided my daily life in the Army for over twenty years of active duty service, three-and-a-half years of active reserve service, many years after in the private sector, and finally, retirement. The key officers that I remember were: Capt. William Harty, Capt. Emmett Lee, and Capt. David Hicks, and the enlisted were M/Sgt. Leslie Hurley and Sgt. 1st Class Donald Jennings. There were others, both officers and NCOs that came and went and they too contributed in many small ways to my development. However, the following are my comments of those named above.

– Capt. William Harty: His military classes that I attended helped me with my military development, but his class that helped me the most and saved me from financial difficulties was his comments about our finances when we went on active duty. What he said was your pay is not going to be very much, which is actually $223.30 per month base pay, and if you are married and your wife while single has been spending almost that much on herself per month, you are going be in a lot of trouble. So my advice to you is give her the checkbook and that way she can see what comes in and what she has available to spend on essentials. I did just that from the beginning of my marriage and over fifty-six years later she still maintains the checkbook and is my financial advisor, and as a result we have no debts, a good savings account, and are financially comfortable in our retirement.

Additionally, a question was once asked of Capt. Harty and that was, “how do we know when our NCOs have accepted us as officers.” The answer he gave was, “the day when they refer to you as, ‘the old man’ regardless of how old you are will mean that they accept you as their officer.

– Capt. Emmett Lee was my advisor when I was the cadet Regimental Drill Team commander. To me he was a top-notch officer and I could always count on him for his full support, backing, and guidance, and he never micromanaged me. He allowed me freedom to run my drill team as I thought it should be run with my cadet officers and sergeants. While on active duty I always remembered how he was with me and that is how I treated my subordinates and it always paid off.

– Capt. David Hicks ’50. I grew to like and respect him during our field exercises with the Mountain and Winter Warfare Training Unit. He always set a good example for us to follow and being a Norwich graduate he understood us and we of him.

– M/Sgt Leslie Hurley was in charge of the Mountain and Winter Warfare Training Unit. He was a veteran of the WWII-era 10th Mountain Division, he knew his stuff, and we all had the highest respect and admiration for him. He had a quiet way about him and was effective in the way he could transfer his extensive knowledge about mountain and winter operations to us; some parts of it I used from time to time while on active duty. It was because of him and Sgt. Jennings that I enjoyed and learned so much during my four years with the Mountain and Winter Warfare Training Unit.

– Sgt. 1st Class Donald Jennings—he was in combat during the Korean War as an Army scout in charge of a small scout unit made up of American and South Korean Army soldier scouts. I kind of adopted him as my mentor and one of the many questions that I had spoken to him at great length was, as a new lieutenant, “how can I expect an old NCO who has perhaps spent the last twenty some odd years in the Army to follow my orders.” His answer was, “you are the officer and if you give him the respect, backing, and support, he will come through for you.”

What Sgt. Jennings said to me came to pass nineteen months after I entered the Army and as a newly promoted first lieutenant I was given command of a 208-man cavalry troop. My newly assigned first sergeant was a twenty-two-year Korean War veteran. This Sergeant was definitely a “hard corps” individual. The story relayed to me was during the war his tank was hit and on fire, but he forced his men to fire off all their ammunition before he would let them leave the burning tank. Needless to say I was concerned how things were going to be between him and me but remembering what Sgt. Jennings had said to me at Norwich, I took command of that troop and gave my first sergeant the respect, backing, and support he deserved to run it. To my great relief things worked out well and we were soon a good working team and then I overheard him say one day, those three important words, “the old man,” that Capt. Harty had once told us, was when sergeants accepted their officers.

I enjoyed all my troop duty assignments as well as each staff level assignments from battalion to army including a special assignment with a small Army detachment at NSA. I owe my successes to Norwich where I learned from my ROTC instructors in class, in the field, and in informal discussions the knowledge and tools I needed to succeed as a citizen soldier. I am now enjoying a happy retirement with my wife and loving family.

Retired Army Lt. Col. Victor L. Kim ’60  

 Skiing to Success

As a Cadet at Norwich, Class of ’61, Sargent Major Hurley, Mountain and Winter Warfare. Tough, to the point. As a member of the Tuck School (Dartmouth) MBA class of ‘63. Commissioned Army Officer (at Norwich ‘61), asked to teach mountain and winter warfare at the Dartmouth ROTC unit (during my two years at Tuck). Worked closely with Sargent Major Brown. He and Hurley are close friends…. Moving fast forward. Vail, Colorado opens up’64. It’s now 1972. I buy a condo at the foot of the mountain. As president of K2, having put together the K2 Ski Company (consisting of K2 skis, marker bindings, Scott poles/goggles) Sargent Brown and I reconnect and stay connected for the next 35 years: he as the chief operating officer of Vail. I call Vail home, having served as a senior officer of several international corporations. Best of all, I attend the annual Ski Industry Hall of Fame, which honors Sargent Major Brown for making Vail and the ski industry what it became.

– Rand Garbacz ’61

A Most Interesting Assignment

It was a dark and stormy day during the turbulent 1960s when I approached my ROTC assignment at Georgia Institute of Technology (GA Tech) in Atlanta, GA. I signed in at the ROTC headquarters located on campus late in 1968. The fall semester at GA Tech had already started.

At this time, the Army ROTC detachment was branch specific. The branches were, as I best remember, Infantry, Chemical, Ordnance, Signal and Engineer. And as I was an Ordnance Officer, fresh from the Ordnance Career Course, I was assigned to teach Ordnance cadets. Surprisingly, I had about 10 to 15 cadets, as juniors and seniors, which were in the Ordnance curriculum. The procedure at that time was that the first two years of ROTC consisted of general military science. The following two years those students wishing to continue with ROTC could choose a branch with a reasonable guarantee that they would be commissioned in the branch of their choice.

Life on campus was a little stressful. Initially, we were told to come to work in civilian attire and change into military uniforms prior to teaching any ROTC classes. While on campus, there was some anti-war sentiment expressed by various non-ROTC students. This was mostly some name calling, but for the most part it was quiet with no major confrontations. The dean of students did not take kindly to any student rebellion. As a side note, Navy and Air Force ROTC’s were also stationed on the GA Tech campus.

Our PMS was quite a guy. During the spring semester of 1969, he said, “enough is enough.” His order was every Friday, at the conclusion of ROTC classes; we were to meet at a local “watering” establishment, in uniform, on Peachtree Street to enjoy a happy hour. Surprisingly, the vast majority of patrons welcome us, to include some returning Viet Nam Vets. This was a nice feeling, as we heard that some ROTC instructors at other colleges didn’t seem to have an easy time.

In the summer of ’69 I was sent TDY to West Point for eight weeks to be “certified” as a Military History Expert. Thus, back at GA Tech I became the military history guru for the detachment. Additionally, our PMS asked us to step forward and get involve in campus activities. Some of us did become faculty advisors to various clubs that were on campus. I became the faculty advisor to the newly formed GA Tech Sport Parachute club. Great to say, none of the club members suffered any injuries other than some sprained ankles. That in itself is a story for another time.

All in all, this was a most interesting assignment. In fact, to this day, I still stay in touch with some of those ROTC and sport parachute students, who are now senior citizens.

– Retired Army Lt. Col. Andy Seremeth ’63

My ROTC Story

My ROTC story starts four years before Norwich when I was admitted to Christian Brothers College (CBC), a military high school in St. Louis, Mo. They admitted a small number of cadets from East St. Louis, Ill., as an outreach effort. I became involved in drill tram and rifle team and rose to corporal in my sophomore year. My dad got a big promotion that year, getting us out of East St. Louis to New York. I wanted to continue in a military school and was able to transfer to Cardinal Farley Military Academy in Rhinebeck, N.Y., a boarding school. This was a major life event. I learned about college, a concept nobody in my family had tried up to that point. I managed to improve academically, started a drill team, became a force in speech and debate, and worked on the yearbook. Now convinced I wanted an Army commission, I applied to Norwich University and Pennsylvania Military College, and tried for an appointment to West Point. The Norwich acceptance was much better than PMC.

Arriving on the Hill I had an advantage over most rooks because of high school JROTC, but I quickly learned not to attract attention from upperclassmen. At Norwich I was involved in Mountain Cold Weather and Rescue Team which would be a recurring life thread. Also, I was active in the Sport Parachute Club and Honor Infantry Platoon. Academics remained a challenge. As a distinguished military graduate, I received a Regular Army commission in the Corps of Engineers.

A twenty-four-year active duty career followed, most of it as a paratrooper. The Mountain Cold Weather experience led to my commanding a unit building mountaineering theme training program for 7th Engineer Brigade in Germany. We put the entire brigade through the three-day program without a single injury.

Leaping forward toward the end of my career, as a lieutenant colonel, I was asked by BG Arnold, the 1st ROTC Brigade Commander, to take over ROTC at the University of Vermont. We had a Boy Scout connection at Fort Bragg and he believed the UVM battalion needed help. My acceptance interview at UVM was preempted by deployment to Just Cause. When rescheduled it was successful. One of my former UVM cadets has since commanded that battalion. Teaching climbing and rappelling, orienteering, and backpacking for the UVM Physical Education Department increased our visibility on campus and sustained the quality of cadets in the battalion. My retirement coincided with the 1993 JROTC program expansion brought about largely by GEN Powell. I decided to turn down a professional opportunity with the Boy Scouts to take a more hands-on position as a Senior Army Instructor.

1SG Richard Sisk and I opened a new program at East Rowan High School without resources in 1993. The Boy Scout connection allowed us to open an Explorer Post and do some exciting things with the cadets. As the program grew over the years we maintained an emphasis on climbing and rappelling and were able to build a tower and rifle range on campus. The battalion became an Honor Unit with Distinction at its first inspection in 1996 and remained so until 1SG Sisk and I retired in 2012. Recently, I was forced into the modern Facebook age by the veteran’s club in our retirement community. The results were most gratifying.

The cadets kept me young and energized until sixty-four when a dog bite and old age ended my leadership example. It was a great fifty-one-year ROTC experience.

Retired Army Lt. Col. Rollins Collins ’69

From the Hill to Air Force One

I believe the incident was fall of 1971. The AF ROTC Instructor was B-52 pilot Koenig. The student was a freshman(me). I got up and went to first-period class. I had my AF class second or third period. I skipped it. I stayed up in the freshman club pool room and snack bar and played pool, by myself. After class I went and saw Captain Koenig and asked what assignments I missed. He asked me, “Why were you not in class?” I said, “I really do not know, I just didn’t feel like it, but after class I knew I should come and see you.” I expected to get severely reprimanded. That didn’t happen. He told me to sit and he said, “you are training to be an officer in the U.S. Air Force. I can tell you know that there will be days when you want to call in sick or just step out to get away from it all, but, you will be an officer, entrusted to leading and setting an example for others to follow in easy times as well as hard times. As an officer you must be a step ahead of everyone. You set the bar for personal and professional performance. I have confidence in you that this will not happen again and you will learn for the experience, and I will not mark your absence down for today.”

Then he gave me my assignments and dismissed me. I have shared that lesson with lieutenants and junior civilian managers over the years. So Captain Koenig’s message went a lot further than he ever knew.

Ironically, two years later the lesson was added to when the PAS Colonel Erchinger called me in to discuss my grades. He said he could understand why I was challenged by subjects like anatomy and physiology but to be getting a “D” is Aerospace Studies which is mostly a history class and to have scored over 95 percent on the Pilot Aptitude Exam made no sense to him. I told him, I could care less about a blimp or a P-51 and their role in a war. I wanted to be a jet pilot. He didn’t demean my attitude but carefully corrected my perspective. Colonel Erchinger gave me a short lecture similar to Captain Koenig’s lecture about subjects we study that contribute to the foundation of the education that makes us a better professional Airman. Even to this day, I take an interest in the history of the organization I am working for. It is important to understand history to understand the current situation, and be able to better understand where we may go in the future.

On a third note: I attended what I think was the first dining-in formal function for the NU AFROTC Detachment. At that event, we had a grog bowl and I was sent to it for not following some sort of silly dinner table rule. When I took my drink, I sloppily saluted and sloppily placed the glass on my head and got a bunch of laughs. After the event, AFROTC Instructor Woody Thelien, a C-130 Pilot, said I should remember one thing about public appearances: “Perception is Reality,” meaning that if I am perceived as a drunkard and rabble rouser, that perception would carry over into my supervisors or other senior officials’ opinions when rating time came around or when they needed special assistance.

At my first assignment, I had a reputation for being able to get just about anything done when under a deadline. The Air Base Wing Commander received a call from the White House asking if a four-foot wingspan model of the AF jet (I think it was a 707) that was bringing the Iranian hostages home could be found because the project officer for the event wanted to hang the jet over the receiving cake in the White House. I was honored when Colonel Christensen, the Air Base Wing, called and told me he had offered up his services. I called a lot of places, and being a fan of the Air and Space Museum, on a Thursday afternoon I began making calls. By late Friday afternoon, I had connected with one of the Smithsonian directors who informed me they had what we needed but since the item was on loan from Boeing, the Smithsonian would need a release from the appropriate Boeing official. I had to call my commander and tell him the situation, and that I could not think of any other resource for a model of the size desired. I did fail in my mission, but I was honored to learn that the commander’s perception of me was that if there was anyone on base who could think outside the box and exhaust all possibilities it was me. And, I was stationed at the home to Air Force One. I am glad my commander never saw me at the famous Grog Bowl at Norwich

Thanks to Norwich University AF ROTC, I know I am a better person for having had these experiences. Thanks for asking.

– Retired Air Force Major Lee Holliday ’75  

Generation Jennings

I wasn’t an ROTC instructor myself but I was one of four sons of an ROTC instructor at Norwich University.

My father was one of several NCOs in the Army ROTC department during the late fifties through early seventies. What I remember most is the tremendous amount of time he dedicated to preparing for, and working with, the cadets. Both of my parents worked at NU; my mother was the secretary to the head of the engineering department. In the evenings when they came home they often shared stories of their day, sometimes laughing (often in astonishment) and sometimes commiserating with one another. They both loved Norwich University and the cadets.

I periodically accompanied my father to work where I had a firsthand look at how he interacted with the cadets in his charge. I envied the effort he put into each of his students. He mentored these young men to a remarkable degree, spending innumerable hours with them in and out of the classroom. It was also clear to me that they responded very positively to his efforts. He never portrayed himself as a buddy on equal terms with them. It was always as a teacher/mentor.

In the late 1990s I too had the opportunity and distinct privilege of working with the men and women of the Corps of Cadets by way of the commandant’s office. The sheer energy, drive, and dedication of these young people was awe-inspiring and tremendously rewarding. I finally got it. My father was drawn to their enthusiasm. He knew he had a small window of opportunity and he wanted to impart as much of his experience and knowledge to these young leaders as he possibly could during the short time they were together. My mother told me a story number of years ago about a prominent a man who once criticized my father for being too hard raising his boys, in this case, his sons. She said my father responded to the gentleman’s comment by saying; “I’m not raising boys, I’m raising men.” I believe he felt the same of the cadets he worked with. My father was SFC Donald J. Jennings USA (Ret).

Scott B. Jennings ’77, Assistant Commandant (1998 – 2001)

Great Leadership Matters

I was in the Army ROTC program at Norwich from 1972 to 1976. While there, we students benefitted from two outstanding professors of military science. COL Milton Haskin was PMS when I first arrived. He was called “Lee” by his associates but we knew him as COL Haskin. He was a World War II veteran, later attended West Point, served in Europe and Korea and led with a quiet confidence. He helped us get established in the program, never hesitated to meet with me and he always provided excellent guidance.

My last two years in the Norwich ROTC Program were led by COL Jack Doody. By this time, I was an upperclassman and more familiar with the program that was providing me funds and allowing me to attend Norwich. COL Doody once mentioned that he was part of Task Force Smith. This was the thrown together U.S. unit sent out to stop the North Koreans at the start of the Korean War. Task Force Smith had insufficient weapons capable of stopping North Korean armor. But it was all that was available and it was deployed in the face of vastly superior numbers. Nevertheless, the Americans succeeded in slowing down the North Korean advance so that U.S. forces to the rear could be stood up and organized. The teaching points were many. But the two that made the most impression on me was that there is no substitute for planning, training and equipment and that great leadership matters. It can help even out bad odds.

These two rather quiet, confident men were greatly respected and served as examples for us who were just starting our careers.

– Richard Prevost ’76

Transformation

I came here purely by circumstance. The Marine I replaced needed to leave early and I was next on the chopping block for Marine officer instructor duty. When I got to Norwich in May of 2015, the students were gone and a certain aura abided across campus. After touring campus (maybe huffing and puffing), an atmosphere resonated with the hallowed footsteps, rhythmic marching, and echoes of former students preparing themselves for service in some way or another. That “secret sauce” was evident about this institution; however, I couldn’t put my finger on it.

Then I began to meet the faculty and staff. Each one walks with a confidence that is rarely seen. There are professors whose love for students is beyond reason and know that college is more than just a grade—it’s a life experience! But then the students started to make their way to campus, and then the rooks arrived…

When the first day of class starts every year, Norwich becomes a living organism intent on one thing—transformation. Rooks learn the basics, and upperclassmen begin to master the tenets of leadership. My experience involves watching these students discover life lessons and realizing that leadership is hard, and it’s earned. I’ve also observed many students (in and out of ROTC) willingly push themselves beyond what they thought they could do, only to find that they can go farther. Each one wants to learn, transform, and be someone who does something for society. I have learned that they absolutely have the potential to do so, they can take the lessons learned here and be the leaders that we need them to be. With a little humility, application of effort, and a rooted foundation, they’ll be what this country need them to be: leaders.

Are they perfect, no…… but who is? They, Corps of Cadets and Civilians, are all here for that one special reason. They want to leave transformed into what they can be. My observation of the esprit de corps, zeal, and literally a transformation from lonely rooks or wondering freshmen, to individuals ready to do the one thing that many can’t do… Lead from the front. They’re the future, they’ll accomplish things that others can only dream of, more importantly they will make an impact. One thing is for certain, they ARE and forever will be Norwich.

Marine Capt. Richard Benning M’17, present-day Norwich ROTC instructor

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