After the Vietnam War, the United States Army was demoralized.
But the establishment of U.S. Army Cadet Command provided structure and quality leadership training – aspects of the organization that have continued to today, which were showcased at a ceremony June 3, 2011, marking the command’s 25th anniversary at its new headquarters at Fort Knox, Ky.
Cadet Command was formed in April 1986 at Fort Monroe, Va. It is the largest officer-producing organization in the U.S. military.
It has commissioned more than a half million second lieutenants since its inception.
The Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps was founded in 1916 at Norwich University in Northfield, Vt. June 3 also commemorated ROTC’s 95th anniversary.
At the ceremony, officials dedicated Cadet Park in honor of those ROTC graduates who made the ultimate sacrifice for the country and christened Shoemaker Hall, the new Cadet Command headquarters.
The building, once the former Fort Knox hospital, took about 18 months to renovate at a cost of $7.5 million.
Nearly 300 people attended the event, which finalized Cadet Command’s move from Fort Monroe, Va., as directed by the Base Realignment and Closure Act.
"We only do two things at Cadet Command: I’ve got to commission 5,350 officers and run a world-class citizenship program," Maj. Gen. Mark McDonald, Cadet Command’s commanding general, said at the ceremony.
Adding, "That sounds like a little bit, but it’s a lot. It takes a team, and we have a great team here."
Gen. Gordon Sullivan, USA, Ret., president of the Association of the United States Army and the 32nd Army chief of staff, was the ceremony’s featured speaker.
Sullivan, a Norwich University graduate who was commissioned a second lieutenant of armor through the ROTC program, highlighted the positive impact Army ROTC had on his life and the lives of thousands of other cadets who earned their commissions through the program.
"When I recited my oath as a cadet in Northfield, Vermont, in the summer of 1955, I never realized at that time what a significant event it was to be in my life," he said.
Adding, "It was to be the great adventure of my life, and I am proud to say I’ve been doing this in one form or another since 1955. ROTC and the cadet experience has been a huge part of my life, and whatever I became, in addition to my family, I owe to the United States Army."
Although he discussed the beginnings of citizen soldiers and the problems facing a force rife with untrained officers leading untrained soldiers, he focused on post-Vietnam to the present.
It was after Vietnam that the Army was in dire need of restructuring, and that transformation ultimately led to the founding of Cadet Command.
"We came out in pretty bad shape and the leadership of the Army decided it was time to rebuild the force and re-create this force. They [the senior leaders of the Army] initiated a major campaign to transform the Army," he said.
He added, "And in my view, the creation of Cadet Command ranks alongside some of the major initiatives that took place after the war in Vietnam."
After Vietnam, the Army became the envy of armies of other nations, he said. Cadet Command will continue to be an integral part of the development of the fighting force.
"The people who were touched by the officers, developed by Cadet Command, have been out there each and every day doing what has to be done in terrible circumstances, and I’ll guarantee you this: As sure as we’re all sitting here today, years from now in someplace that nobody can even spell, there will be NCOs and soldiers who have been touched by what happens here at Fort Knox," Sullivan said.
"They are not willing to give their lives, but willing to give themselves in the service of their country because of what they learned in the ROTC experience and in the colleges and universities of America under the leadership of the United States Army Cadet Command," he said.
Lt. Col. Tim Leroux, professor of military science at the University of Virginia, was a cadet 25 years ago, and Sullivan’s speech reminded him of the impact ROTC has had on his life.
"Reflecting on the role of ROTC graduates around the world in our current and past conflicts sort of brings home the magnitude of what Cadet Command does for the Army," Leroux said.
Adding, "What Cadet Command really did was standardize the process, and that makes a huge difference so you have a common product coming out of thousands of schools."
Although military training had been taking place in civilian colleges and universities as early as 1819, the signing of the National Defense Act of 1916 brought this training under a single, federally controlled entity: the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps.
Cadet Command has 273 senior ROTC programs in the United States, Puerto Rico, Guam and American Samoa – and more than 36,000 enrolled senior cadets.
There are 1,688 Army junior ROTC units, and more than 300,000 cadets enrolled in Cadet Command’s JROTC program.
Lt. Gen. Benjamin Freakley, commanding general, U.S. Army Accessions Command, hailed the product Cadet Command produces and the people who produce it.
"This year alone, over 20 percent of our professors of military science were selected for battalion command from our ranks, which speaks volumes about the talent that is training our cadets and leading our ROTC battalions," he said.
The strength of the Army was seen in the sight of era uniforms that newly commissioned second lieutenants wore, showing the difference in battle fatigue styles since World War I and the Army’s constant commitment to ensuring freedom.
"We don’t know what the future will bring, but we do have one certainty," Bill Betson, the ceremony’s narrator, said.
Adding, "When our Army is called upon, we will echo General Douglas McArthur, who summed up our responsibilities with these immortal words – always for them: duty, honor, country."
(Editor’s note: This article is based on a story by Sara Nahrwold, U.S. Army Cadet Command.)