In his opening statements to the 13 soon-to-be commissioned ROTC cadets on the stage, speaker Col. Kenneth Letcher emphasized “family” — a word he used while both sharing his own experiences in the military and projecting what the futures of the young men and women will look like post graduation.
That theme was prevalent throughout the two-hour ceremony, the annual pre-commencement tradition where the cadets officially become second lieutenants, receive their first salutes and are pinned by, you guessed it, members of their family. Highlights included Lianora Areevong getting pinned by her husband and young son, and Craig Nice receiving his first salute from his grandfather — a World War II veteran — a few hundred miles away, via Skype.
“Welcome to the family,” said Letcher, a 1995 graduate of Vanderbilt University who serves as the 49th commander of the Rock Island Arsenal Joint Manufacturing and Technology Center, overseeing the manufacturing of equipment for the Department of Defense. “You may not understand this yet, or you may not have an appreciation for it; but as you grow up, you’ll understand that the Army is a family. It’s a calling to service, but it’s also a family.”
He welcomed to the family 13 Campbell seniors who will go on to serve as officers in military bases all over the country, from nearby Fort Bragg to Fort Carson, Colorado; Fort Lewis, Washington; and even Schofield Barracks in Hawaii. The latter honor goes to Areevong, who will make the cross-country move in a few weeks.
“The Army has done so much for me,” she said, “and this commissioning service [becoming a second lieutenant] is my way of giving back.”
Joining Arrevong and Nice in the ROTC’s Class of 2019 were Tammy Bennon (Fort Carson), Addison Cagle (Army National Guard in Fayetteville), Luke Cason (Fort Carson), Michael Diaz (Fort Bragg), Jennifer Feijoo (Fort Bragg), Zane Knight (Fort Lewis), Caleb Nixon (Fort Leavenworth, Kansas), Kaylee O’Connell (Fort Leonardwood, Missouri), John Stoddart (Fort Bragg), Brieanna Vaugh (Fort Lewis) and Jacob Woodworth (Fort Benning, Georgia).
Friday’s ceremony began by honoring a handful of Vietnam War veterans who were among the audience on hand. The United States’ involvement in the war peaked in 1969 — 50 years ago — with more than 543,000 total troops. That war led to then-President Norman Adrian Wiggins forming Campbell’s ROTC program in 1971 at a time when other colleges and universities were disbanding their programs because of opposition to the country’s involvement. Forty-eight years later, Campbell’s ROTC program is nationally renowned and is consistently recognized as one of the top-performing programs in the U.S.