By Commandant of Cadets Maj. Gen. Randal D. Fullhart, U.S. Air Force (retired)
“So what did you do this summer?”
That’s a question I often get asked. People sometimes think that summer on a university campus is down time. That’s not really the case anymore, especially at Virginia Tech. No sooner do we get cadets on the road going home and get rooms on the Upper Quad cleaned and new people are moving in.
The university plays host to many groups over the summer, and, because our two residence halls are the newest and best, we see a lot of traffic. Among the visitors were a youth basketball camp followed by over 500 high-school Junior ROTC cadets here for a science and technology camp. These young cadets also used our obstacle course and rappelling tower, along with receiving information about the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets and what it has to offer.
Starting right after the Fourth of July, the university and the Corps shift into summer orientation gear. All incoming students, including our new cadets, come to campus for two days of briefings, meetings, and signing up for classes.
For our new cadets, the sessions include a briefing from me, meetings with ROTCs, and a visit to the Tailor Shop, where they are fitted for their uniforms. The seamstresses and cadet staff take those measurements to create the uniforms that will be waiting in the new cadets’ rooms when they arrive for New Cadet Week.
Again, because of the location and quality of our residence halls, that meant that every day we were welcoming nearly an entire building’s worth of students — they alternated between Pearson and New Cadet halls — for over a month!
This continued into early August when, on the same day the last orientation students were checking out, our upper-class cadre began moving in to start their week of preparation training. Then the following Saturday, new cadets arrived followed a week later by the rest of the Corps. And then we started classes!
So, let’s see, that was July and August. What about end of May and June?
Our Global Scholars Program is one of the crown jewels in our efforts to produce graduates with a global perspective by using historic military and cultural venues with a focus on leadership at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels.
This year, my wife, Kathy, and I took part in the academic classes associated with one of our Global Scholar cohorts made up of 12 cadets. The particular venue was the efforts leading up to and the execution of the D-Day invasion.
Under the leadership of Lt. Col. Don Russell, deputy commandant for the Citizen-Leader Track, with the assistance of Gordon Rudd, whose experience includes being a West Point history professor, instructor for Marines at Quantico, and conducting classes on D-Day at the University of Virginia, we spent the spring semester in class learning about the various key leaders, their actions, and the intricate details of how this historic operation would take place.
In May, the team came together at Dulles International Airport for an all-night flight that would arrive in Paris early the next morning. After clearing customs, we immediately embarked on a bus to the Normandy area, where we began at Pegasus Bridge — the place where, before the action on the beaches occurred, gliders landed in the middle of the night with troops that secured the bridge to prevent German reinforcements from arriving and ensure an exit route for Allied forces coming inland.
Over the course of the next several days, we would visit Omaha and Utah beaches, Point du Hoc, and Arromanches to learn about the unique challenges of logistics and offloading leaders faced.
Of course, no learning experience could be complete without a visit to the American Military Cemetery at Normandy, where cadets placed Corps flags at the base of the crosses of the several alumni of Virginia Tech, including Medal of Honor recipient Jimmie Monteith.
Our route back to Paris included stopping at the famous Falaise Pocket, where we learned how good and bad decisions affected the local outcome as well as the timing and course of operations in the coming months.
In Paris, the cultural learning continued with visits to the Army Museum, where Napoleon’s tomb is prominently displayed, to understand the military role of the Eiffel Tower and to walk on the streets where hundreds of thousands of Allied soldiers marched having replaced Hitler’s occupying forces.
At each stop, the cadets who researched specific subjects in the classroom extended their presentations at the actual locations where the action took place. It truly is one of the most impactful programs we have, not only for the cadets directly involved but for the many other cadets who learn from their experience. That includes all first-year cadets who visit the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Virginia. The Global Scholar cadets travel with them and conduct classes on the buses based on their learning experiences.
Needless to say, the demand for this program is high and is supported by generous donations we receive, including through the Global Scholars Annual Program option on the Corps’ giving webpage.
So that’s what our summer was like. How about yours?
Now, we are busy with the largest Corps since 1966. We welcomed 397 new cadets, bringing the total Corps to 1,127. We used lounges for bedrooms, added extra beds in some other rooms, and still turned people away.
Perhaps that’s another story for another day.