Despite the coronavirus-related disruptions to the May 2020 commencement season, Army ROTC units across the country are commissioning new second lieutenants. In true Army tradition, the operative phrase this year has been ‘improvise, adapt and overcome.’
As social distancing becomes the new normal across the United States, many commissioning ceremonies were held virtually, using video conferencing and livestreaming to swear in new officers.
The Inspector General, Lt. Gen. Leslie C. Smith, spoke via video conference to the ROTC detachment at the University of Southern California, and appeared in pre-recorded videos for Georgia Southern University, his alma mater, as well as the University of South Carolina and Grambling State University in Louisiana.
Lt. Col. Laura Skinner, the Professor of Military Science at the University of Southern California, praised her students’ resilience during the current emergency. “You together have propelled our program to new heights,” Skinner said.
Smith also spoke in person at the commissioning ceremony for Morgan State University—with full social distancing measures in effect—May 15 at the Fifth Regiment Armory in Baltimore.
“We don’t know what tomorrow holds. All we can do is be ready for the mission the Nation calls us to do,” he told the cadets just before they were sworn in as lieutenants.
The Morgan State ROTC the Professor of Military Science, Lt. Col. Willie Rodney, lauded the new officers’ determination to have an in-person ceremony while minding all social distancing measures. “You wanted to commission together. That alone shows the camaraderie you developed during your time in the Bear Battalion,” Rodney said.
Smith noted the difficulties presented by mandated social distancing, and praised the cadets’ ability to adapt to the situation. “The students—now lieutenants—have adjusted to the change on the fly and we have to adjust accordingly,” he said.
Deputy Inspector General Maj. Gen. Donald E. Jackson addressed and swore in Rutgers University Army ROTC graduates via live feed on May 19.
“The challenges have never been greater, but the opportunities for each of you will exceed your wildest expectations,” Jackson said to the new officers.
Lt. Col. Javier Cortez, the Professor of Military Science at Rutgers and a former inspector general, praised his cadets’ ability to overcome challenges brought on by social distancing.
“When Rutgers University went to remote learning, I was amazed with the resiliency, tenacity and grit our (new lieutenants) demonstrated. The key to the success of the ceremony was multiple rehearsals,” Cortez said.
Jackson also presided via video conference for the commissioning ceremony May 20 at his alma mater, Clemson University in South Carolina.
He noted both schools’ ability to adjust in the face of adversity. “I have not done one of these (virtual events) prior to this week. I found both ceremonies were conducted professionally, enthusiastically, and using a great deal of innovation and creativity,” he said. “It was an honor and professional highlight to preside over these events.”
Col. Jeffrey Mozingo, assigned to the Army Reserve Command Headquarters Inspector General’s office at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, addressed ROTC graduates at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke via video conference on May 8.
“Many of them were surrounded by their loved ones in their living rooms and back yards. It was certainly a different, but very positive experience,” Mozingo said.
With the recent challenges added by the coronavirus pandemic, Smith believes this year’s new lieutenants will incorporate the lessons learned since March into their approach to their Army careers.
“I think the service of these new officers and their families should be celebrated more than ever before. Service to the nation should be considered as a first choice and not a last one,” Smith said.