WICHITA, Kan. – Wichita State University’s Reserve Officer Training Corps program celebrated its first commissioning ceremony since 1993 on May 14. The two new officers, 2nd Lt. José Garcia and 2nd Lt. Gabriel Schrag, are now members of the Medical Service Corps, Kansas Army National Guard, and the Nurse Corps, Active Duty, respectively.
After more than 25 years since being disbanded, the WSU ROTC program was reestablished in the fall of 2019 as the result of a collaboration between Dr. Marché Fleming-Randle, vice president of WSU, and the KSARNG. The program’s uniformed cadre and instructors are entirely staffed by the KSARNG, a unique arrangement compared to other ROTC programs, which are usually staffed by Active-Duty Army officers and noncommissioned officers.
Maj. Eric Hollingsworth, assistant professor of military science, who was brought in by KSARNG leadership to help rebuild the program in 2019, said that since its revival WSU ROTC has been flourishing. The program has nearly 60 students enrolled currently and is looking to grow to 75 or 80 in the fall 2021 semester.
“At first I didn’t think it was possible that we'd be able to commission two cadets in two years,” Hollingsworth said. “It was just the right time timing of how these things came together.
“It's been a lot of work, a lot of sleepless nights,” he laughed.
As the two most senior students in the program, Hollingsworth said Garcia and Schrag has a lot of additional responsibilities juniors and seniors in already-established programs might not have to think about.
“We sent them to a lot of recruiting events the last couple of years and do a lot of extra stuff in the community,” said Hollingsworth, explaining that WSU ROTC has had to work diligently to get the word out about the return of the program and the opportunities once again available to students looking to pursue a military career while earning a degree from WSU.
“These guys helped run the program the last two,” Hollingsworth said. “And to see the growth that we've had because of their leadership and support the program continues to see, it's awesome. It's exciting. I’m very proud of them and of all their hard work and effort.”
Keynote speaker for the ceremony, Brig. Gen. John Aarsen, deputy commander, 79th Theater Sustainment Command and WSU alumni, class of 1989, addressed the graduates and the audience.
“ROTC has been a proud tradition for nearly a hundred years,” Aarsen said. “One of creating agile and adaptive leaders who have led our country and our Army from the battlefields of World War I to the far corners of the world today. You will travel a path that many others have traveled ahead of you; ROTC has commissioned over seven hundred thousand lieutenants. It's a well-worn path, but you get to define where it goes for you.
“It is the strength of our Army is that you are judged by your accomplishments,” Aarsen said. “Your heart and your head - they are what will define you and move your career.”
Garcia hails from Hutchinson and has been a member of the KSARNG for 6 years and was the KSARNG Soldier of the Year in 2014. He earned his degree in communication science and disorders, maintained a GPA of 3.9 and was recognized as a distinguished military graduate, finishing in the top 10 percent of cadets in the 2021 commissioning class nation-wide. He will begin his doctors of audiology program this summer through Wichita State.
Schrag hails from Newton. He earned his degree in nursing, maintaining a GPA of 3.8, and will attend the basic officer leadership course at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio before embarking on his active duty career.
“I can't begin to say how proud all the leadership at Wichita State is,” Hollingsworth said. “Both of you and of this program and its future success.”