By Midshipman Abby Averna ’20

Each year in Blacksburg, Virginia, the Corps of Cadets welcomes more than 300 new students to the Virginia Tech family. This year, the entering class of 2022 saw 98 new freshmen, or midshipmen fourth class, begin their four-year journey with the Naval ROTC (NROTC) Battalion, which works in conjunction with the Corps to commission officers in the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps. We graduate 40 to 50 new officers each year.

The midshipmen fourth class who joined the NROTC this year come from all walks of life, some with military family legacies and others who will be the first in their families to serve. In the words of Rear Adm. Jesse Wilson, the commander of Naval Surface Forces Atlantic and a special guest of the NROTC this fall, “These midshipmen stand on the shoulders of giants.” From Virginia Tech’s seven Medal of Honor recipients to Ensign Sarah Mitchell ’17 who lost her life in the service of our country this past summer, Virginia Tech’s motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), is a cornerstone of the moral, mental, and physical development they will undergo. 

At center from left, Midshipmen Jacob Gray ’20, Austin Kassman ’20, and Chase Liddon ’20 coordinate the details
At center from left, Midshipmen Jacob Gray ’20, Austin Kassman ’20, and Chase Liddon ’20 coordinate the details while executing the annual Battalion Field Meet. (Photo by Cadet Abby Averna ’20)

Midshipmen Fourth Class

For the NROTC Battalion, August is a time of excitement and apprehension. For the midshipmen fourth class, this time represents the first of many new challenges and experiences devoted toward a higher sense of purpose. Applying the concept that “great leaders begin as great followers,” they are accountable for themselves and also their squad mates. They are expected to constantly assess the environment; observe their squad leaders, company staff, and the active duty staff to absorb leadership lessons; and prepare themselves for a career of service and leadership.

This first year introduces the concepts of teamwork and team goals. Events such as the annual Battalion Field Meet in September highlight these concepts. During it, midshipmen from all four Navy-option companies and the unit’s single Marine-option company competed against each other in five events that focused on teamwork, physical fitness, critical-thinking skills, and esprit de corps in the face of adversity. The 46 Marine-option midshipmen of Raider Company emerged
victorious, earning bragging rights until the next Battalion Field Meet. Additionally this fall, the NROTC Battalion sponsored community-outreach service projects, focusing on team-building within the unit and engagement with the local community.

Midshipmen Third Class

The newly minted sophomores, or midshipmen third class assumed the reins as squad leaders, earning their first formal opportunities to practice the leadership skills and techniques they observed throughout their freshman year. The midshipmen third class mentor the freshmen, teaching appropriate standards and expectations not only of the NROTC, but of the Corps of Cadets and the university. Squad leader is a key position and arguably one of the most essential tests of mentorship and leadership that a billet can offer within the battalion.

 Small-unit leadership drives daily action not only within the battalion, ensuring every midshipmen is contributing and progressing in his or her development as well as in the fleet. Authentic leaders who take an active role in their subordinates’ lives are essential for our Navy and Marine Corps, and these skills are practiced daily by Virginia Tech’s midshipmen. 

Midshipmen from Naval ROTC Bravo Company package books
Midshipmen from Naval ROTC Bravo Company volunteer at Virginia Tech’s School of Public and International Affairs to package books to be shipped to Mzuzu University in Malawi Africa. (Photo by Cadet Abby Averna ’20)

Midshipmen Second Class

Next in the midshipman hierarchy come the juniors, or midshipmen second class. This is the year they take on organizational leadership roles, running the battalion from a different perspective. With over two years of experience and perspective as midshipmen, they take on roles such as midshipman petty officer, in which they are entrusted with guiding half of a company, roughly 25 to 30 midshipmen, in discipline and professionalism matters.

Additionally, midshipmen second class occupy battalion staff positions, ensuring effective communication and coordination between the companies, the unit staff, and the Corps of Cadets. This is where plans and goals are placed into action.

Midshipmen First Class

For the senior class, or the midshipmen first class, fall marks the pinnacle of their efforts in the unit. They are entering their fourth year of education and development, carrying the full load of battalion leadership and preparing for service assignment. This is when all their hard work begins to bear fruit. At service assignment this October, the midshipmen first class earned 15 pilot billets, nine surface warfare billets, eight submarine billets, three special warfare (SEAL) billets, two naval flight officer billets, and one special operations billet. This marked Virginia Tech as the top producer of special warfare officers for the second consecutive year and of submarine officers for the fifth consecutive year out of the nation’s 77 NROTC units.

This exceptional production rate highlights the quality of our Virginia Tech graduates — the hard work and sweat equity they place into bettering themselves and their shipmates each and every day — as well as the symbiotic officer development relationship between the NROTC Battalion and the Corps of Cadets.

As these newly assigned seniors continue to maintain a high level of performance in the final countdown to graduation and the closing of their college careers, they are constantly looking forward to their service careers that lie ahead.

When it comes time to be fitted for fleet uniforms in the spring, a symbolic passing of the torch occurs to the junior classes — Brotherhood, Honor, Leadership, Sacrifice, Service, Loyalty, Duty — the pylons of Virginia Tech’s core values all focused on the goal, Ut Prosim.

Our midshipmen truly stand on the shoulders of giants — alumni of Virginia Tech and veterans of our great military services — and they proudly enrich the tradition of the Corps of Cadets and the university every day, keeping the torch alive for the generations yet to come.