Last Tour Ended - Wanovich Retires After 11 Years at VMI
LEXINGTON, Va., May 2, 2021--As a cadet, Col. Bill Wanovich ’87 wasn’t on the commandant’s radar—and he never marched in an inaugural parade, as the parade he was scheduled to participate in, the Jan. 20, 1985, inauguration of President Ronald Reagan, was canceled due to extreme cold.
But life has a funny way of taking us back to places we’ve been before---and offering second chances as well. Wanovich, who will retire July 1 after seven years as commandant of cadets, has not only overseen the military training and discipline of the entire Corps, but also accompanied the Corps to Washington, D.C., as they marched in the presidential inaugural parade in 2017.
It’s a unique memory of a unique day. At the end of April, the lock screen on his computer in the commandant’s office was displaying a photo from that day—endless parallel lines of cadets marching down Pennsylvania Avenue in the evening dusk.
“Their performance in the inaugural was wonderful,” he stated. “It really highlighted the discipline and the hard work of the Corps. I thought it was such a wonderful tribute to them and a wonderful tribute to the school that they were able to do that.”
A native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Wanovich had never heard of VMI until he attended a college fair one day---and just happened to talk to a handful of cadets who were representing the school.
“For whatever reason there, I came across three cadets standing there in gray blouse and all that, and that was it,” he recalled. “I came home that night and told my Dad that was where I wanted to go to school.”
As a cadet, Wanovich majored in economics and business and held rank in the Corps. He was also the class treasurer on the Ring Figure Committee and a member of the Cadet Investment Group. Upon graduation, he commissioned as an infantry officer in the Army, but he didn’t plan a long military career.
“I didn’t plan to be a career officer,” he explained. He’d planned to stay in for three years---and wound up staying for 27 instead.
“I loved the responsibility,” Wanovich stated. “Every day was a little different. I loved the troopers and the soldiers.”
Over the course of his Army career, Wanovich deployed to Operation Desert Shield/Storm in 1991 and the next year served as a battalion supply and logistics officer in Homestead, Florida, providing humanitarian assistance as part of Operation Hurricane Andrew. He served in a number of leadership and staff positions and in a security assistance role for Egypt, Africa, and Iraq.
He served as both the secretary of the Coalition Joint Staff and later as the special troops battalion commander in Headquarters, XVIII Airborne Corps and Fort Bragg, deploying to Iraq for 12 and 15 months. This included command of Task Force Dragon, which provided security, support, and services to more than 4,100 members of the Multi-National Force and Multi-National Corps in Iraq staffs.
He then attended the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, before coming to VMI in the summer of 2010 as head of Army ROTC, a position he held until retiring from the Army and becoming commandant in the summer of 2014.
As expected, Wanovich treasures the memories of the special occasions—he was there when cadets marched in both a presidential and gubernatorial inaugural parade, and he made the trip when the VMI Band participated in the 2016 Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, California. He also fondly remembers the October day in 2019 when the Keydet football team brought the Silver Shako trophy back to VMI after beating the Citadel in Charleston.
“The Corps looked, acted, and performed well…and we won the day,” he said.
But it’s the quieter, day-to-day satisfactions that have mattered most.
“I’ve really enjoyed working with the cadets,” said Wanovich. “I’ve enjoyed the professionalism I see in them. I feel like I’ve seen continued improvement and continued progress in cadets over the years, which is good.”
This spring, as the football team rolled to its first winning season since 1981, Wanovich decided to emulate a former commandant, Col. Frank R. Pancake ’38, and give cadets a break as part of an Institute-wide celebration.
In November 1953, Pancake had told the Corps that if the football team beat Virginia Tech in the traditional Thanksgiving Day game held at Victory Stadium in Roanoke, he would cancel all penalty tours for cadets and walk them himself. The team came through with a 28-13 victory, and Pancake, accompanied by his dog, held up his end of the bargain the following Saturday.
An alumnus friend of Wanovich’s, Bolling Williamson ’60, had filled the commandant in on this bit of VMI history.
Not one to let a good idea slip by, as the final game of the season against archrival the Citadel approached in mid-April, Wanovich shared his plan with members of the football team: “If you guys win this Saturday, I’ll let the Corps off restrictions next Wednesday … and I’ll march their [penalty tours].”
When the roll was called for penalty tours that Wednesday, Wanovich answered for every name that was called—and then got down to business.
“I marched the full first tour,” he related. “The second one, instead of just marching in a circle, I marched down to see the team, which was practicing. I marched around the field and then came back up.”
Very soon, marching will be a part of Wanovich’s past—unless he chooses to march around the golf course. He and his wife, Tina, are retiring to Hilton Head, South Carolina, where they’ve been vacationing for almost 20 years. Tina Wanovich, a special education teacher at Rockbridge County High School, will retire herself this spring after a 35-year career in education.
The Wanoviches are also looking forward to spending more time with family, including their four children and two grandchildren.
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