The second floor of the Millennium Centre boomed with greetings, laughter, handshakes and hugs as multiple generations of brothers from East Tennessee State University’s Zeta Omega chapter of Sigma Chi Fraternity gathered Friday to honor two of their own.
Since 1935, Sigma Chi nationally has honored key members of the fraternal group of men with the Significant Sig Award. The recognition, given only to a select few through a nomination process, honors and recognizes members who have brought honor and prestige to Sigma Chi because of their professional achievements and accomplishments.
Two Sigma Chi alumni — Navy Rear Admiral William R. Schmidt and Air Force Col. Mark A. Cooter — were both presented and named Significant Sigs during Friday’s gathering.
Schmidt, who graduated from ETSU in 1968 and left the area for an extensive career in the Navy, said the recognition was truly an honor after looking through the list of Significant Sigs who came before him.
“I looked through the list again this afternoon of the 120 plus people –– from CEOs to professional golfers, professional baseball players –– I mean, it’s a really high-caliber group of people,” Schmidt said. “I consider myself fortunate. I think there are many many other people that ... could be standing where I’m standing.”
As a member of Zeta Omega’s first pledge class at ETSU, Schmidt said his time in the fraternity shaped his work ethic and leadership skills, as the original founding members and pledges worked hard to remain in good social and academic standing at the university. Serving at one time as console, or chapter president, of Sigma Chi while in the fraternity, Schmidt said he took on multiple roles, including friend, brother and executive member, as well as taking on the big responsibility of keeping watch over the fraternity house and its residents.
After college, Schmidt had a successful naval career, including positions as executive assistant and naval aide to the Secretary of the Navy and commander of Navy Personnel Command, as well as his last job where he worked as president of the Board of Inspection and Survey.
He said he also served as President Ronald Reagan’s naval aide during the president’s first two years in office.
“I had an office in the East Wing, traveled with him, went to Camp David with him,” he said. “I’ve had a pretty well-rounded career.”
A news release said Schmidt served in Vietnam and participated in Operation Desert Shield as commander of the U.S. Maritime Intercept Unit in the North Arabian Sea/Gulf of Oman.
Schmidt attributes his time in Sigma Chi as one of the foundations for his successful career.
“It’s the teamwork. It’s the brotherhood. It’s leading,” he said. “It’s like running a ship or running a large organization, whether it’s Navy or anything else, you have to build a team (where) everybody’s pulling in the same direction. Sigma Chi is just really something unique.”
Cooter, the other honoree and an ETSU graduate of 1985, also reflected on his chapter of brothers and how their differences were really their strengths.
“One of the tenants of Sigma Chi is really a group of people with a ... belief in a common ideal and bringing different temperaments, talents and convictions together,” he said. “We pride ourselves in different people, different walks of life, sometimes difference of opinions ... but that we can come together and when you give us a single vector, we’re a stronger team than anything else.”
Cooter said his exposure and experience in college working with different personalities and talents was especially helpful when he began leading teams in the Air Force.
“One of the major things I’ve applied in leading whatever team in the Air Force, was ‘OK, let me bring together varied people, get their strengths and play to their strengths,’ ” he said.
According to a release, Cooter is chief of the Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Forces Division at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia. While on deployments, Cooter was in charge and led the Combined Air Operations Center ISR at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar and was a Predator instructor sensor operator and mission commander over Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan.
Cooter also took part in Desert Shield and Desert Storm, and more recently Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.
He and his wife, who also is in the Air Force, have just moved to Washington from Hampton Roads, Va., and he will now be working in the Pentagon.
Cooter said the award is an honor and that he appreciates the tight camaraderie of brothers he has from his days at ETSU.
“Sigma Chi is pretty tight here at ETSU,” he said. “To be recognized like this ... it’s a very humbling experience. (I’m) very blessed to have been surrounded by great people. Very lucky.”