The Case for The Corps

By Commandant of Cadets Maj. Gen. Randal D. Fullhart, U.S. Air Force (retired)

Our Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets has always been reliant upon, and benefited from, the generosity of others, whether it be their time, their advocacy, or their financial support.

Even with that, I was recently challenged to make “the case for the Corps.”

It’s a good point. We shouldn’t take for granted that people know why the Corps is vital to our country. 

Maj. Gen. Randal Fullhart congratulates first-year cadets .
Maj. Gen. Randal Fullhart congratulates first-year cadets on completing their new cadet training at the end of the spring Caldwell March.

Maybe people think it is just a quaint tradition worth continuing. After all, the Corps made up the entire study body when the school opened in 1872.

We know from our history that the Corps’ existence was not always a given, nor should we assume that it is secure for the future. Every day, to prospective families of future cadets, current families and cadets, and alumni — seasoned and new — we have to answer the question: “Why the Corps, and why should I support it?”

I recently came across some information that might be surprising to some, but certainly not to those who have served or are presently serving in the U.S. military. Since its inception in 1776, America has been at war 225 out of 241 years. That doesn’t even include the fact that our military forces also are fully engaged in humanitarian relief, training with allies, and deterring conflict from breaking out.

Wars come in many sizes and shapes. What they all have in common is the expectation that our military in general, and its officers in particular, will be of the highest caliber, professional, capable, and dedicated to the preservation of a country that is centered on a constitution.

When I speak to families and prospective cadets, I talk about the fact that those who are attracted to our Corps are sons and daughters who aspire to lead other people’s sons and daughters where ever our country calls upon them to go.

Let’s add in other statistics.

A few years ago, Time magazine reported that about 71 percent of the 34 million 17-to-24-year-olds in the United States would not qualify for military service. Why? Reasons related to health, physical appearance, and educational background.

Of those remaining, only 1 percent are both eligible and inclined to even have a conversation with the military about possible service.

That makes our job a daunting challenge. We — Virginia Tech and the Corps — must be committed to this mission. 

Kilo Battery prepares to pass in review at the Change of Command Ceremony on April 28.
Kilo Battery prepares to pass in review at the Change of Command Ceremony on April 28.

The Army and the Air Force have signaled that they are looking for our program to produce more officers. But if we don’t have the resources to recruit them — including Emerging Leadership Scholarships that offset the full cost of attendance and admissions policies attuned to recognize that four-year ROTC scholarships are given to those who have a high probability of success in college — we will not accomplish our mission.

That’s why we are committed to growing the endowments for our scholarships, imploring the Commonwealth of Virginia to appropriately resource our program, and working closely with university officials to admit students to fill our program with the same effort they give to other organizations, such as athletic teams.

Another part of the case for the Corps is the notion that we are creating “global” leaders. Our modern military is engaged around the world — in partnerships, in training, in humanitarian relief, and, when required, in conflict. Our businesses, industries, and communities are integrally tied to other countries through commerce, economics, and political agreements.

We are committed to helping our cadets gain experience both at home and abroad so they have the intellectual curiosity and capacity to think beyond their current boundaries. That’s why we created and seek through endowment and donations to expand our Global Scholars travel programs to places such as France that have helped our cadets gain incredible insights from history and how it applies to the future by traveling to the actual sites where history was made.

Finally, is our focus on creating “ethical” leaders.  This goes well beyond our Honor Code. Again, I point out to audiences that if one looks at all the things going wrong in our world today and asks the “why?” questions, what we inevitably come to is a failure of ethical leadership. In the Corps, we get at this issue through the Rice Center for Leader Development. Our curriculum, guest speakers, and cadet travel to leadership conferences help us create the leaders that our nation and the world needs. All of those rely on donations and endowments.

Together, these amount to our simple but powerful statement of vision: Global, Ethical Leaders … Now, More than Ever.

So, to the person who asked me to make the “case for the Corps” and to the rest of you reading this, that’s the answer.

I wish all this could be reliably and fully supported financially by the Commonwealth of Virginia and the nation, both of which collectively benefit from the leaders we produce, but that is presently not the case. Our programs and scholarships must come from donations.

With that, I also think there is a case to be made that all alumni of Virginia Tech, not just Corps alumni, have a stake in this.

We have proven through the generous donations of alumni and friends that we are ready to build our Corps Leadership and Military Science Building. Now the commonwealth needs to do its part.

Current alumni have helped us establish a foundation for our scholarships, but more must be done, and we need all recent alumni to do what they can to help develop the next generation of leaders, too. It’s the best investment, with the greatest return, I think we can make.

The cadets recently added a sign by the Ranger Pit adjacent to Lane Hall. It reads, “The only easy day was yesterday.” We’ve got work still to do!