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Be the Change.
By Hali Chiet ('07)
JMU President Linwood H. Rose talks with JMU ROTC director Lt. Col. Nick Swayne.
Each year, the ROTC program at JMU produces graduates that become some of our nation's best leaders. The program, which includes academic instruction, physical training, extracurricular opportunities, and social and interpersonal activities, has repeatedly been ranked in the top five percent of more than 270 universities in the nation.
"JMU students in general are probably some of the best practical leaders in the country," says Lt. Col. Nick Swayne, ROTC director. "All the things that make people good, sound citizens you find in the students at JMU. They have strong family values, they are goal-oriented, and they want to serve their community and their country."
The ROTC program at JMU was originally an extension center of the University of Virginia's program until December 1969, when it became an independent or host institution. In December 1979, JMU's Army ROTC program reached full-time status and has expanded ever since.
According to Swayne, approximately 4,500 lieutenants get commissioned every year from the nation's ROTC programs, and only about one percent go on to become general officers. In the very first class of JMU ROTC graduates, which consisted of 12 students, two went on to become general officers -- one a two-star general, and the other a one-star general. "To have two [students] go on to become general officers -- senior executive members of the army -- is pretty amazing," Swayne says.
Students may enroll in two different programs. Those who cannot participate in ROTC during their first two years of college can enroll in the two-year program, while the complete four-year program prepares students to be commissioned as second lieutenants in one of the Army's branches in the active Army, Army Reserve or Army National Guard.
Capt. Leslie Kipling ('99), who has served overseas and is currently the recruiting officer for JMU, says the university's dynamic program helped prepare her for the future. "The program gave me an opportunity to really develop leadership skills," she says. "As a young officer, I had levels of responsibility that are incompatible to anything I could have had in the civilian world that early in my career."
JMU ROTC received the General MacArthur Award in 2005 as the best large battalion east of the Mississippi River.
In March of 2005, JMU's program received the General MacArthur Award as the best large battalion east of the Mississippi River recognizing the Duke Battalion's record of commissioning more than 19 lieutenants after graduation each year. According to the U.S. Army Cadet Command Headquarters in Fort Monroe, Va., this award is based on performance in academics, leadership and physical conditioning, as well as the collective scores of cadets in various training programs.
Lt. Col. Don Vtipil ('84) says he is not surprised that the program has been recognized for its outstanding achievements. "JMU's ROTC program has always had a reputation of being the best of the best, and this award confirms the program's achievement in excellence," he says.
Currently, Vtipil serves as the Army's food service director. His job responsibilities include directing business strategy development and implementing the Army food budget with oversight of 345 dining facilities worldwide. In addition, Vtipil directs, coordinates and supervises the resident and non-resident training of Army officers, noncommissioned officers, soldiers, civilians and entry-level U.S. Marine Corps cooks in field and garrison food service operations.
Vtipil says the program at JMU prepares students for the various responsibilities they will be given in the future. "There is no doubt that I benefited from the program because I went from not knowing what I was going to do when I graduated to a person that set goals and accomplished them," he says. "The leadership skills alone that came out of the JMU ROTC program prepared me for anything that I wanted to do."
Since its establishment on the JMU campus, the ROTC program has produced hundreds of Army officers that have gone on to all branches of the Army. Although graduates often take on different roles in the Army, it is common for JMU alumni to meet up overseas. According to recruiting officer Kipling, the networks with alumni after graduation are "great." Kipling has run into former JMU cadets in Germany, Iraq, Kosovo and Kuwait. "It doesn't matter what country you are in -- you will find another JMU alumni that will help you out in any way they can, and I think that's just really amazing," she says.
Those who graduate from the ROTC program at JMU certainly benefit from their experience. "As you grow up and meet people and organizations that come and go, you remember them, while others leave an indelible mark on your lives," Vtipil says. "The JMU ROTC left that indelible mark on me and now my family. The program prepared me not only for the Army but for life itself."