After threat of the program shutting down in the fall semester of 2013, the ROTC program at Tennessee Tech had its first ribbon cutting ceremony for the new rappel tower located next to the baseball fields.
Tech President Philip Oldham threw the first pitch from the new tower to begin the baseball game against University of North Carolina at Ashville.
The rappel tower is the newest project in the ROTC program at Tech but other land is being looked at for use.
“We’re taking a look at some other ideas, utilizing some other land that the University currently owns for other training opportunities,” Major Daniel Evans said.
Mission Specialist 1 Andrew Whittenbarger, a chemical engineering major at Tech, said that the new tower was good for the program’s morale.
“For a civilian career, even some people’s career in the military, they might never rappel,” said Whittenbarger. “But at the same time, it’s a huge confidence booster that you can rappel off a tall tower, you can trust your equipment and the people around you.”
The ROTC program, along with 12 other programs across the United States, was almost shutdown in 2013 because of budget reasons as well as a lack of diversity, as cited by the Army. Evans, as well as ROTC cadets, said the community and Oldham were supportive of the program staying on Tech’s campus.
“Fortunately state and congress got involved, the University president was instrumental in that, and now we have established new criteria and new leadership that understands the critical nature of being able to turn on and off pipelines of production of officers inside the military,” Evans said. “We anticipate having ROTC here at the University for many years to come.”
Oldham said at the time of the risk of the program shutting down that it was important to preserve the legacy and quality of the ROTC program
“The president of the University has been behind us, unlike anybody I’ve ever seen. This community has been behind us unlike anybody I’ve ever seen, and really this state,” Company Commander and interdisciplinary studies major Caleb Anderson said.
Whittenbarger, a freshman, learned the program could be coming to a close before he came to Tech.
“I heard that it was shutting down but I also heard that the president here at Tech and a big group of people stepped in and made sure that didn’t happen,” said Whittenbarger.
“You’ve seen people from all different walks of life get behind our program that has produced quality officers since the 1950s,” said Anderson, “and they said ‘no we want to continue to keep this program here because we know that Tennessee Tech will always produce men and women to lead in a culture and in a world that needs strong leaders.”
Anderson, Whittenbarger as well as Corporal Chelseyrae Hancock, biology and health science major, said that the program has thrived in the 18 months after almost being closed for good.
“The program is much more competitive now. Before it wasn’t as astute, it wasn’t as competitive, it didn’t seem like everyone had the drive,” Hancock said. “Maybe it shocked everyone that, ‘Hey, this is something that could go away, this is not something that is always going to be there for me. I have to strive for it.’ There was so much more motivation, I guess you could say, to really do well, make good grades, have a high PT score, meet all of their requirements, then excel in those things.”
“This program is going to continue to grow, because we have the right people and resources that are falling into place,” said Anderson.
Whittenbarger said that in addition to the new rappelling tower, the program has also moved out of its old meeting area in Tucker Stadium for a more central location on campus.
“With the new building, we have a computer lab and a study lounge, so both of those things are really nice as well,” said Whittenbarger.
Anderson said that in addition to securing ROTC’s foothold at Tech, the program would also be recruiting for more future cadets.
“In the future, we’ll be working with the nursing program to get more spots for students. We’re pulling in different engineering majors from the state and really the country to look at Tennessee Tech,” said Anderson.
Both Anderson and Whittenbarger say the future looks bright for the program in its future.
“This year we had one of our biggest freshman classes of incoming ROTC students that we’ve ever had before, so our numbers are really good,” said Whittenbarger.
Whittenbarger also said that Tech’s ROTC program is above average in commissioning officers from the engineering program than many other programs in the United States.
“This program has come a long way in the last two years and it’s really a testament to the leadership that we have now surrounding this program,” Anderson said. “I would like to look at this program, eight years from now when I’m a captain, 10 years from now when I’m a major, and see that this program is even stronger and even bigger than when I graduated here. This program had a legacy before me, and it will have a legacy after me if we continue to do things and which I know that we undoubtedly will.”