AT LEAST ONCE before, the school successfully resisted such action by the Army. In early 1995 at what was then Augusta College, the program faced elimination because of a lower-than-desired number of commissioned officers. But knowing of the long association of Augusta with the Army, and serving as president of a college on property that had served as a United States arsenal under the command of the Army, I sought support to convince the Army to reconsider its pending decision.
Much of that support came from the late Lt. Gen. Douglas Buchholz, then commanding general at Fort Gordon. Some came from the office of U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn. As a result, Assistant Secretary of the Army Sara Lister visited our campus, interviewed cadets and met with me.
The result was a continuation – with vigor – of the Augusta College program.
In the years that followed that turnaround, the Jaguar ROTC Battalion continually met its mission (which means commissioning the number of second lieutenants set by the Army’s Cadet Command). It did so under the superb leadership of a series of Army officers from major to colonel, assigned by the Army to Augusta College and then Augusta State University, and by award-winning cadets.
I always felt privileged to serve at an institution that provided the nation with well-educated and committed military leaders. I also took pride in an ROTC battalion that was not limited to ASU students. At various times, men and women pursuing degrees at Paine College, USC Aiken, Troy University and other local institutions could become Jaguar cadets, learn military science in ASU classrooms and launch their careers as Army officers.
MANY OF THE cadets already had served as enlisted personnel at Fort Gordon, where the Army’s “Green to Gold” program encouraged those who qualified to become officers through ROTC.
Many also were from disadvantaged backgrounds, including disadvantaged urban backgrounds.
All of them enriched the university with their dedication and their willingness to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” Those are the words of the oath of office taken when cadets, upon graduation, become Army officers and accept “without any mental reservation” an obligation that may put them directly in harm’s way.
The death of Maj. Stephen Long, a former Augusta College cadet who was killed at the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, was a constant reminder of the harm’s way that cadets might later face.
My last formal speech as president of Augusta State University was at an ROTC banquet in late April of last year. Looking out at a large audience of formally attired cadets, family members, personnel in the ASU Department of Military Science and many others, I claimed that the Jaguar Battalion may very well be the best in the nation.
Eleven months later, the Jaguar Battalion placed first in leadership development and other standards among more than 200 across the country. It was best in the nation – and, in my experience, a program that did everything right to meet the university’s ethical and academic expectations.
IF THE ARMY’S decision to shut the program is irreversible, Georgia Regents University becomes less than what it could be. Moreover, this community – largely, as I often been told, an “Army town,” and the home of thousands of veterans – loses a source of both pride and opportunity.
(The writer is president emeritus of Augusta State University, and a professor of English and American studies at Georgia Regents University Augusta.)