story info and photos submitted by the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith
December graduation exercises at University of Arkansas at Fort Smith will include the commissioning of two army officers, which might cause many to wonder why those two officers are part of the ceremony.
Brandon Stamps, a nursing major from Muldrow, is going on active duty as a nurse, and Melanie Stout, a microbiology major from Fort Smith, will serve in the field artillery.
Dr. Ray Wallace, UAFS provost and senior vice chancellor, explained that this is the natural outcome of the University’s support of ROTC since 2010 when the first on-campus contingent was formed.
“This is part of our ongoing effort to help students achieve their academic credentials while they serve in the armed forces,” Wallace said. “We’re genuinely proud of our ROTC program, its cadets and the officers and non-commissioned officers who make it such a success. It’s growing by leaps and bounds, and that’s a sure indicator of its value to our students.”
According to Lt. Col. Dwight Ikenberry, these two graduates are typical of the 40 cadets who have entered ROTC at UAFS since 2010. Ikenberry, assistant professor of military science at UAFS, oversees the ROTC program. He said these two graduates are typical of the cadets using ROTC to help cover expenses while pursuing any of the majors offered at UAFS.
Stamps found out about ROTC in an unusual way.
“I was walking out of clinicals in my scrubs one day,” he said, “and somebody came up to me and asked if I’d like to know about ROTC. I said I was, and here I am.”
Stamps, who will be commissioned into the United States Army Nurse Corps as a second lieutenant, said the idea of ROTC benefits was appealing.
“When I graduate, I’ll have a Bachelor of Science in Nursing and a job waiting for me in a military hospital. It’ll be clinical work, and that’s what I want to do.
Stamps said the Army had been good to him.
“It’s presented a lot of opportunities – a job, income, education and the chance to work overseas – but there’s a lot of work involved when I take advantage of them,” he said. “When I graduate, I’ll be a commissioned officer, and that means I’ll be expected to set the bar at a higher level than ordinary people in my situation.”
Stamps has completed his military education and is waiting to graduate before he’s commissioned as an officer and goes on active duty.
Stout is a cadet with a very different story. She was in the 188th Air National Guard when a little girl approached her in a store one day and thanked her for her service.
“I thought, ‘you know, if somebody’s going to thank me for my service, I want to be out there doing something on the ground in harm’s way and really earn that gratitude,’ so I looked into Army ROTC.”
Stout switched from the Air National Guard to the Arkansas Army National Guard and is now in the 937th Forward Support Group, a unit in the 142nd Fires Brigade of the Field Artillery.
“My dad encouraged me to become an officer,” she said. “It’s more interesting work. There’s more opportunity, and the responsibilities are greater. So, the best way to do that was return to college and join ROTC.”
Stout had completed two years of college but did not have a degree when she switched to the Army Guard. To her, National Guard pay was important.
“The Guard helps pay my tuition, and that’s a huge issue.”
Stout is a full-time student who works as a dispatcher with UAFS University Police.
She will graduate in three semesters and will be commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Arkansas National Guard. At that time, she says, she’ll be a traditional Guard member, drilling on weekends and holding a full-time civilian job.
According to Ikenberry, this year ROTC at UAFS includes cadets majoring in programs throughout the University. He said the Army is actively seeking more graduates in the fields of science, technology engineering and mathematics.
The UAFS program is a function of the Arkansas Army National Guard, according to Ikenberry, and the cadets are typical “citizen soldiers.” If they have prior military service, they complete the program in two years. Otherwise, it is a four-year program.
Ikenberry, also a citizen soldier, used National Guard ROTC service to help pay for his college education. He is a native of Blytheville, holds a bachelor’s and a master’s in education and taught in West Memphis public schools for several years. Married with two children, Ikenberry was an ordinary National Guardsman earning extra money from part-time military service when he was deployed to Iraq in 2005. Upon his return from deployment, he decided to remain on active duty.
“Today’s cadets at UAFS are heading down a variety of career paths,” Ikenberry said. “Some were already in the National Guard as enlisted personnel and joined ROTC to become officers while they earn their college degree. Some want to be career military. Some feel the pull of patriotic service.”
Ikenberry said that assignment to a unit upon graduation is competitive and not automatic. It’s based upon individual desire and vacancies in local units.
UAFS AND ROTC
ROTC is not new on the UAFS campus. For many years, according to Ikenberry, students could enroll in the program but their instructors were at Fayetteville. The first full-time presence with a UAFS program started in March 2010 with two students. The 40 students now in the program include three women.
Ikenberry said 17 of the students are “contracted cadets” who will be commissioned officers in the Regular Army of Reserve Component upon graduation. There are five students who are awaiting scholarship approval or other administrative action and will be contracted before the end of the semester.
The balance of the corps have completed ROTC but are waiting to graduate or are taking the class as an elective, he added.
Staff Sgt. Thomas Roots is the instructor for freshman and sophomore classes. He assists in various other duties such as supply, administrative work and other training events as needed, according to Ikenberry. Roots, is also a traditional National Guardsman. A native of Westville, Okla., he is married and has two children. Roots was in the National Guard for 15 years before deploying to Kuwait during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Roots said there are four parts to the program: classroom work, Thursday labs, physical fitness, special classes and events and training events during the summer and annual active duty for training for National Guard and Army Reserve members. Some leadership and tactical labs are at Fort Chaffee and other special courses, such as airborne, air assault or mountain warfare are farther away at other military bases or college campuses.