The ETSU Department of Military Science, Student Veterans of America and Veterans Affairs Standing Committee observed Veterans Day with a ceremony and a Dedication of the Veterans Memorial Thursday. (Lee Talbert/Johnson City Press)
East Tennessee State University officials and veterans gathered on the campus Thursday to honor those who have served in the military and rededicate the university’s Veterans Memorial, one day after word came that the university’s ROTC program has received at least a temporary reprieve.
The university’s Veterans Memorial was first unveiled on Veterans Day in 2003 and came about due to the fundraising efforts of the Veterans Memorial Committee formed two years prior to its completion. The memorial, which includes the names of the 10 ETSU graduates who died during active military duty, was relocated to an area next to Gilbreath Hall within the last year due to construction on the campus.
“Today, our Veterans Memorial sits at the center of our campus here in the shadows of the building named in honor of our first president, Sidney Gilbreath,” ETSU President Dr. Brian Noland said.
Aside from the rededicated memorial, the latest update with regard to the university’s ROTC program was a topic of discussion. The Army announced early last month that ETSU’s ROTC program, as well as 12 other ROTC programs across the country, would close by the end of the 2014-15 academic year due to a lack of graduates from the programs.
But, in a Wednesday news release, U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-1st, announced a reversal in the Army’s decision and that the program would now be under a two-year probationary period. The ROTC program must commission 15 officers in a 3-, 5- or 10-year average to avoid being closed at the end of the two-year period.
Several of the guest speakers at Thursday’s ceremony commented on the ROTC situation. While he said he could not elaborate on the issue, ETSU Director for Veterans Affairs and the Buc Hero Program Kevin Flanary said the decision to grant the probationary period was the right move.
“With the good news at hand we’ve received, I thought I’d share a little quote — ‘If you’re ever going to see a rainbow, you’ve got to stand a little rain,’ ” Flanary said.
Retired Lt. Gen. and ETSU alumnus Ronald Hite referred to the possibility of ending the ROTC program at the university as “nonsense.” Hite also commended the efforts of Lt. Col. Daniel Bishop, the man in charge of ETSU’s ROTC program, once talk of the program’s possible closure surfaced.
“He did just a fantastic job in walking that line without violating any of the trust on either chain of command,” Hite said.
Bishop expressed confidence the university’s program will be able to meet the necessary requirements to continue beyond the probationary period.
“While our program will face challenges over the next several years, I am very confident that we will overcome any obstacle and solidify our future here at East Tennessee State University,” he said.
Following the ceremony, Noland said he has not yet received official documentation outlining the criteria that must be met for ETSU to maintain its ROTC program.
“The official criteria through which we’ve been judged have yet to arrive,” Noland said. “I did speak yesterday with the three-star from Fort Knox who informed me we should have that information within the next couple of weeks.”
After the Army’s announcement that the 13 ROTC programs were set to close, the presidents of the affected institutions, as well as state and federal legislators worked to proclaim the importance of ROTC programs, Noland said.
“We are standing here today because of the overwhelming support of our federal delegation and our representatives in Washington,” Noland said.
Noland said the probationary period will give the university officials the opportunity to see how “high the bar is,” and work to meet the criteria. Like Bishop, Noland said he is confident the university can meet the necessary requirements for its ROTC program to continue.
“Our mission is to commission 11 officers per year, and we’re in the queue to reach that mission,” Noland said. “We anticipate that our new threshold will be 15. We will hit 15 this coming year, and we’re in the queue to well surpass 20 in each of the years to follow. So if the threshold is 15, we’ll be close, but as we look at the number of students who are sophomores and juniors in the corps, we anticipate that we’ll graduate well over 20 students from the corps moving forward.
“So if the threshold is numbers, we’re there. If the threshold is performance in the classroom, we’re already there. If the threshold is competition against other programs, that’s in place as well. I feel very, very confident about our position and about our ability two years from now to move off of a probationary criteria.”