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Oklahoma State University

The official magazine of Oklahoma State University

Cowboy Cadets: A Century of Leadership

OSU Army ROTC turns 100 with an eye to the future

By Jim Mitchell
The diverse topography around Stillwater has long provided challenging terrain for cadets to apply the tactics they learn in military science at four local training areas. (PHOTO / PHIL SHOCKLEY)
George Bowers, right, with Norris Gilbert, right, in uniform.

The U.S. Army Reserve Officers Training Corps at Oklahoma State University has produced over 6,000 officers in the last 100 years with more than 80 alumni attaining the rank of general or admiral.


“That’s a background of accomplishment we are certainly proud to embrace as Army ROTC marks its campus centennial. It also inspires ongoing work to make the ROTC experience here better than ever,” says retired Major Michael Dale, who serves as recruiting operations officer for the program at OSU.


As a land grant institution, military training was a requirement for male students soon after the college was founded in 1890. The first class of graduates in 1896 had studied military science and tactics all four years of their college life. Back then, students were required to provide their own uniforms, usually hand-me-downs from a family member or friend.


The advent of the ROTC program in 1916 brought several changes, including active-duty military leaders to provide male students with two years of advanced military training. All students received uniforms, and monthly stipends went to those who stayed on after the initial years of training.


Though Army ROTC has experienced many changes over the years, one of the constants has been students who enroll because they are motivated by a family member or friend who served.


“My dad actually went through the ROTC program here himself, as well as his dad, so if I was going to ROTC, I was going here,” says Aidan Wright, who enrolled in Army ROTC last year and is now a sophomore majoring in microbiology. “My grandpa is 78 now, and he was here when he was 18. For the program to consistently provide really good officers throughout that time shows it’s solid.”


While some students want to continue a proud tradition, others are simply interested in ROTC for the program’s leadership training and physical challenges.


“Any OSU student can enroll in the basic military science program for the first two years and leave without obligation,” Dale says.


While ROTC was still in its infancy by the end of World War I, the military commitment on campus was obvious. More than 1,500 students, former students, faculty and staff from Oklahoma A&M College had served their country, and almost half of them, 700, were military officers. Thirty-one soldiers with links to campus gave their lives, including Captain Carter C. Hanner who was killed in a battle drive that cracked the German lines in France. He is buried in an American cemetery near the battlefield site. One of OSU’s early campus dormitories was named in Hanner’s honor.

Cadet Aidan Wright was joined by her father, retired Lieutenant Colonel Michael Wright, at Fort Benning, Georgia, this summer for her graduation ceremony from airborne school. She is following her father and grandfather, retired Lieutenant Colonel Raymond Wright, to become a third-generation cowboy.

During World War II, several Army and Navy training units joined the cadets on campus, which led some local residents to believe the college would soon be converted to a military base.


More than 6,000 former students served in the military during WW II, with an impressive 4,510 serving as officers. Over 2,400 were decorated for their actions, including future Oklahoma Governor and U.S. Senator Henry Bellmon, an OSU alumnus who earned the Silver Star for Valor during the Battle of Iwo Jima. A total of 232 students and former students gave their lives during the war. High-ranking military alumni included General Patrick J. Hurley, Major General George P. Hays, and Rear Admiral Joseph J. Clark.


In 1949, an air science and tactics program became a separate entity from Army ROTC and eventually evolved into the Air Force ROTC on campus. By 1955, it was large enough to field its own band. Both the Army and Air Force cadet bands were discontinued soon after compulsory training was ended in 1965, and enrollment slipped quickly from a high of about 6,000 cadets.


Women had been involved with ROTC in some capacity, usually honorary, until 1973. By 1976, the Army commissioned the first group from ROTC. Women now make up 20 percent of the cadets nationwide.


Enrollment in OSU’s Army ROTC had tapered to 68 students a semester by the time Dale became a fulltime recruiter on campus in 2013. As a proud 1992 alumnus of the OSU program, he knew he could make a difference.


“We’ve had over 100 cadets in the program for the last two years and more than 90 over the last five semesters, so we’re certainly headed in the right direction,” Dale says, adding he would be glad to see an active ROTC alumni program willing to identify and assist with needs, especially considering ROTC’s budgetary limitations and restrictions.


“It’s important that we keep ROTC interesting, and one way to do that is by offering students opportunities for special challenges, such as the Bataan Memorial Death March, an annual 26-mile march in the White Sands Desert of New Mexico. Cadets interested in going must find time to raise money for such trips in addition to the seven hours a week they usually commit to ROTC activities, so that’s just one of several ways alumni assistance would be appreciated.”


Regional and local physical challenges are also available. OSU’s Army ROTC participates in the Army Ranger Challenge each fall, when select cadets test their physical skills against others in the region by road marching 10 km (6.2 miles) and completing various obstacles, weapons drills, and tactical exercises.

The ROTC Pushup Squad is a highly-visible favorite of the fans at home football games. (PHOTO / GARY LAWSON)

“We choose the best of our cadets, based on the Army Ranger Challenge’s criteria,” says Sergeant First Class Isaac Grunewald, who is in charge of the challenge team on campus. “These cadets train from 5:45 to 7:30 each morning, five days a week, all while going to class.”


The Stillwater countryside and area lakes also offer diverse topography with four training areas that serve as another attraction for students to consider ROTC, explains Dale. In addition, various three or four-year scholarships, National Guard scholarships, and a two-year price break for out-of-state students, worth a total of $24,000 in savings, are among the chief financial incentives. For cadets who contract for military service, monthly stipends run from $300 a month for freshmen to $500 for seniors.


From the Vietnam era to the current global war on terrorism, voluntary enrollment has fluctuated, but OSU’s Army ROTC has remained among the leading schools in the nation for providing new officers, lately at the rate of about 15 per year. Current statistics show OSU and other ROTC universities collectively supply more than 70 percent of America’s second lieutenants for active duty Army, U.S. Army Reserve or the Army National Guard.


The OSU cadets are most noticeable on campus at home football games where they bring their pushup board to support the team. Since 1997, they’ve been competing each Thursday before home games for a place on that weekend’s 11-man Pushup Squad, which appears on the sidelines following each touchdown, completing pushups to match the Cowboys’ current score. The most pushups by a cadet was 77 during the 2012 game against Savannah State. Sergeant Grunewald did the final number of pushups that game — 84.


The students in the stands usually count in the background while the cadets are doing pushups, and Grunewald is aware of another group of fans that has a special affinity for the cadets.

ROTC cadets chat and laugh together on the OSU campus.

“I know our ROTC alumni and veterans probably enjoy it the most,” Grunewald says. “They’re always commenting on how good the cadets look and what a good job they’re doing.”


Five cadets participate as the Cannon Squad and fire the 75-millimeter cannon, affectionately known as “Packy,” following the national anthem, after each OSU touchdown and kickoff, and again at the end of each winning game.


OSU’s ROTC was recently inducted into the Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame along with others in the state in recognition of its 100 years of service to Oklahoma and the nation. The hall was founded by Major General Douglas O. Dollar, a 1967 OSU graduate and ROTC alumnus. Its current vice president is OSU President Burns Hargis, another ROTC alumnus, who recently had the honor of cutting the ribbon for a Veteran’s Success Center in the North Classroom Building and announcing OSU’s designation as a Purple Heart University, the only one in the state. The Military Order of the Purple Heart awards the designation to universities for outstanding support to military service members, veterans, their dependents and their survivors.


More information about ROTC is on display until March 2017 at the Sheerar Museum of Stillwater History in an exhibition featuring the rich history of Army ROTC on the OSU campus.




More stories like this are available for members of the OSU Alumni Association. STATE magazine is a benefit of membership in the OSU Alumni Association. To join or update your membership go to or call 405-744-5368.


Published by STATE Magazine Editor Elizabeth Keys, Winter 2016, Volume 12, Number 2


Uploaded on December 1, 2016