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New Officers Encouraged to Put Service Over Self

LEXINGTON, Va., May 19, 2022—Nearly 200 young men and women, most of them VMI cadets, commissioned into the armed services in Cameron Hall on Sunday, May 15 in the annual ROTC Joint Commissioning Ceremony. The ceremony was also livestreamed for family and friends who could not attend the event in person.

The four commissioning officers who administered the oath of office were Army Lt. Gen. David G. Bassett, a 1988 graduate of the University of Virginia, who serves as the director of the Defense Contract Management Agency, headquartered at Fort Lee, Virginia; Marine Corps Gen. Eric Smith, a 1987 graduate of Texas A&M, who is the 36th assistant commandant of the Marine Corps; Navy Vice Adm. Kenneth Whitesell, commander, Naval Air Forces, U.S. Pacific Fleet, a 1983 graduate of Old Dominion University; and, Air Force Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr., chief of staff of the Air Force and a 1984 graduate of Texas Tech.

Maj. Gen. Cedric T. Wins ’85, superintendent, welcomed those in attendance, and thanked the ROTC departments, faculty, staff, family members, and guests who supported and encouraged the cadets throughout their time at VMI. He noted that the ceremony was the culmination of four or more years of intense work on the part of each cadet, while marking the beginning of a life of service to the nation. “Moreover, it is the fulfillment of one of the central purposes of the Virginia Military Institute: the preparation and education of citizen-soldiers,” said Wins. Wins shared his experiences after commissioning as a young officer. “My life was soon filled with exacting missions, tough training, rapidly changing responsibilities, assignments around the world, attendance at outstanding professional military schools, and service under remarkable leaders. Above all, I became part of a great team of soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, and service families. You, too, will come to cherish these same experiences,” he reflected.

Wins closed by congratulating the cadets. “The Institute could not be prouder of you. Our country is fortunate to have more citizen-soldiers and leaders like yourselves.”

Cadets receive their shoulder boards during ceremonies for Air Force and Army in Memorial Hall May 15 2022

Jeremiah Gaulding ’22 smiles during the Air Force pin-on ceremony in Memorial Hall just after his individual oath for the U.S. Space Force.--VMI Photo by Eric Moore. Christopher H. Soo ’22 is pinned in Marshall Hall as he commissions into the U.S. Army.--VMI Photo by H. Lockwood McLaughlin.

Army Lt. Gen. Bassett Commissions 114

Lt. Gen. David G. Bassett was introduced by Maj. Corey Weiss, assistant professor of military science at VMI. Bassett addressed the Army cadets by assuring them that there is a range of ways to contribute their skills to the Army and to the nation, and that each one would make a difference. He reflected that the world is experiencing uncertain times and as junior officers, they would lead the military. He instructed the cadets that “Your soldiers will take care of you, but they won’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” He continued, “Caring is not weakness, caring demonstrates strength.” Bassett then addressed the family members in attendance and encouraged them to continue the support they have shown their cadets. He quoted Gen. Ray Odierno, “The strength of our nation is our Army. The strength of our Army is our soldiers, and strength of our soldiers is our families.” He then administered the oath of office to 114 cadets, commissioning them as second lieutenants.

According to Capt. Colin J. Reynolds, assistant professor of military science, four commissioning cadets stand out as exceptional leaders: Gavin Bryce Bowman ’22, Thomas A. Chelednik III ’22, Rachael A. Dickenson ’22 and Christopher H. Soo ’22. “They are each a distinguished military graduate, a distinction reserved for the top 20% of all cadets in the nation, and they each excelled in academic, physical, and military proficiency,” said Reynolds.

Bowman was a platoon leader in Company C and a prosecutor on VMI’s Honor Court. He is the top cadet branched in the armory and is the most academically proficient cadet in the military science curriculum. “VMI provides an atmosphere to refine leadership skills and teaches you how to care for other people, which goes a long way in leadership positions,” said Bowman. He is a biology major, a distinguished graduate, and was pinned by a family member, who is an Air Force lieutenant colonel, retired.

Chelednik served as Company C commander for the 2021-22 academic year and was primarily responsible for planning and executing training events to prepare junior cadets prior to attending ROTC Advanced Camp. “I decided to join the Army through ROTC because I wanted to pursue a career in which I could look back with feelings of pride, fulfillment, and satisfaction,” said Chelednik. When asked what he would advise incoming cadets he replied, “Surround yourself with people who push you and make you stronger. Seek out those who are better than you, watch what they do and model them.” He majored in international studies, double minored in national security and Arabic, and is a distinguished graduate. His parents pinned him.

Dickinson is top female cadet and No. 8 overall in the VMI Army ROTC program. She is a NCAA cross-country and track athlete and achieved the highest score of any female in this year’s graduating class on the Army Combat Fitness Test. She is also the top cadet from the program who branched Corps of Engineers. She has a family legacy of VMI graduates, including her father, Glenn Kevin Dickenson ’90, her sister, Sarah E. Dickenson ’18, and her brother, John C. Dickenson ’20. “We each came to VMI for our own reasons, not specifically to follow in our father’s footsteps, as much as we love and admire him,” explained Dickenson. She double majored in civil engineering and biology with a minor in Spanish. She received the Society of the Cincinnati Medal, which recognizes efficiency of service and excellence of character. The Society of the Cincinnati Medal is accompanied by the Richard J. Marshall and Sumter L. Lowry Awards. Her father and mother pinned her.

Soo is the executive officer for Company A, which is responsible for training new cadets. He is the No. 2 cadet in the VMI Army ROTC program and the No. 7 cadet nationally. He aspires to go into special operations civil affairs. “Everything the alumni say about VMI helping you endure strife is true. Enduring the hardships in the Rat Line and the monotony of cadet life will help you maintain your composure when those around you lose theirs. That’s your time to become the citizen-soldier, the leader into which VMI has molded you,” stated Soo. He majored in Spanish and minored in Asian studies. He is this year’s winner of the Adolfo Ponzanelli Award, which is presented to a 1st Class cadet for excellence in the study of modern languages and cultures. The honor of pinning him went to his two rats.

Marine Corps Gen. Smith Commissions 19

Gen. Eric Smith was introduced by Col. Travis Homiak ’95, commanding officer of Naval ROTC. Smith spoke about integrity and moral character. “Your integrity will be tested on the battlefield. Don’t return home without your honor,” he stressed. “Wear your moral armor, carry that shield with honor, and return from combat carrying it.” He then asked family members in attendance to “hold these new Marines to a moral and ethical standard that is almost unattainable.” He then administered the oath of office to 19 cadets, commissioning them as second lieutenants.

According to Col. Homiak, two cadets who commissioned into the Marine Corps stood out among their peers: Luke Nicksic ’22 and Nathan Martin ’22. “Nicksic is the definition of a professional who constantly strives for self-improvement,” said Homiak. “As a Marine Corps scholarship recipient, he achieved an outstanding cumulative GPA of 3.87. Outside of classes, Nicksic maintained the highest attributes of a future Marine Corps officer. He was on the NCAA wrestling team and most recently the NROTC Battalion S2, where he was responsible for assisting other cadets improve their academic standing, which he did flawlessly, using a system he created.” Nicksic majored in economics and business, and minored in Arabic. He is this year’s winner of The John W. and Jane M. Roberts Award, presented for outstanding performance by a 1st Class cadet in the economics and business major. His parents pinned him.

“Martin is a natural leader in his own right and an outstanding example of a future Marine Corps officer,” stated Homiak. “After graduating Officer Candidate School as the Honor Graduate last summer, Martin brought the leadership lessons he learned back to the NROTC Battalion as the Battalion commanding officer. He oversaw all Navy and Marine Corps midshipmen in the battalion, totaling over 300. Under his supervision, the battalion completed the semester successfully including the planning and execution of spring field training exercises.” Martin majored in biology and is one of the recipients of this year’s General Lemuel C. Shepherd Jr. Sixth Marine Division Awards, presented to the top two Marine 1st Class cadets in the Naval ROTC program. His parents pinned him.

Cadets receive their shoulder boards during ceremonies for Navy and Marine option in Memorial Hall May 15 2022

Makenna Moore ’22 is pinned by her parents during the Navy pin-on ceremony in Cameron Hall on May 15.--VMI Photo by Kelly Nye. Nathan Martin ’22 does his first salute after commissioning into the Marine Corps on May 15.--VMI Photo by Kelly Nye.

Navy Vice Adm. Whitesell Commissions 30

Homiak also introduced Navy Vice Adm. Kenneth Whitesell, who thanked family members for their support of the cadets entering the Navy. He acknowledged the current turmoil in the world, and advised the cadets that the oath they would soon take will “inspire and guide them” in the challenges they will face as young officers. He then administered the oath of office to 30 cadets, commissioning them as ensigns.

Col. Homiak cited two outstanding cadets entering the Navy, Jacob Benny’22, Makenna Moore ’22. “Benny has proven to be one of VMI NROTC’s most well-rounded leaders,” stated Homiak, “During his four years in the NROTC program he has maintained a 3.5 GPA and outstanding physical readiness scores, while holding important leadership positions and maintaining an internship with NASA. During the spring semester, he excelled as the NROTC battalion executive officer, the second highest position in the battalion. He also completed his mechanical engineering capstone with NASA, a special capstone project for which he was selected by his department and required an internship starting his last year.” Benny majored in mechanical engineering with a concentration in nuclear engineering, and double minored in mathematics and physics. His parents pinned him at the commissioning ceremony.

“Moore is a superb representation of the high-quality officers that are being produced through the VMI NROTC program,” continued Homiak, “During her time in the VMI NROTC program, she maintained a 3.8 GPA and outstanding physical readiness scores, while also competing as a Division I water polo athlete.” Moore majored in mechanical engineering and minored in both mathematics and physics. She was the captain of the women’s water polo team for two years and was the 2022 recipient of VMI’s Three-Legged Stool Award, an award given to one athlete who excels academically, militarily, and athletically. She is this year’s winner of the Superintendent William H. Milton Jr. Class of 1920 Award, presented to the top-standing 1st Class cadet in mechanical engineering. Moore transferred to the NROTC department during her junior year, with aspirations of becoming a nuclear officer, and is commissioning as VMI’s sole female submarine warfare officer for 2022. She was pinned by her parents.

Air Force Gen. Brown Commissions 33

Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. was introduced by Col. Philip “Coop” Cooper, commanding officer of Air Force ROTC. Brown administered the oath of office to 33 cadets, 29 into the Air Force, and four into the Space Force, commissioning them as second lieutenants.

According to Lt. Col. Michael “Keystone” Rose, recruiting officer for the Air Force ROTC, several of the Air Force cadets are remarkable. Holland Arnold ’22 achieved a rare and notable accomplishment by being accepted to Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USUHS), the military's medical school in Bethesda, Maryland. She will be active duty in the Air Force while in school. She majored in chemistry and is a distinguished graduate. She is this year’s winner of The Floyd D. Gottwald Jr. ’43 Award in Chemistry, presented to the top-standing 1st Class cadet in the chemistry major. Arnold credits VMI for opportunities afforded to her, that she had never imagined when she matriculated. “I would not change anything about my time at VMI and am extremely grateful for the opportunity to attend medical school following graduation,” said Arnold. Her parents and brother pinned her. In August, she reports for medical school, where she plans to specialize in psychiatry.

Commissioning into the Space Force are four outstanding cadets, Zachary Farr ’22, Jeremiah Gaulding ’22, Jerrod Hunziker ’22, and Melvin Rubio ’22.

Farr, a computer science major, will be a Space Force cyber officer, the first from VMI and one of 15 in the nation this year. He seeks to make a career out of the Space Force with the eventual goal of stepping foot on another planet. “I have been wildly enamored with space ever since I could look up, and have always known I would leave this planet for another during my lifetime. When this new branch came to be, I was fortunate to have earned a spot, and now I will work to realize my goal,” declared Farr. He was pinned by his parents. He will begin training within the year at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi.

Gaulding will be going to Albuquerque, New Mexico to work under Air Force Research Labs as a developmental engineer. “It was by complete happenstance I ended up getting a commission in the Space Force. I thought it would be interesting to get in at the ground floor and see where it would take me. I will be working alongside members of the Air Force, as we all have the similar end goal in mind,” said Gaulding. He majored in electrical and computer engineering and is a distinguished Air Force ROTC graduate. He is this year’s winner of the Stewart W. Anderson ’08 Memorial Award, presented to the top 1st Class cadet for superior academic performance in the electrical and computer engineering curriculum. He was pinned by his mother, a firefighter of 28 years with the Newport News fire department, and a huge role model in her son’s life.

Hunziker was commissioned as an electrical developmental engineer and will work on satellite communications systems. “I was attracted to the Space Force due to the growth potential for technology. Space is a new battle frontier, and it presents unique engineering constraints, and I would love to be on the forefront of technological advancements,” stated Hunziker. He majored in electrical & computer engineering and graduated with distinction. He was pinned by his mother and father along with his fiancé.

Rubio will be working at Los Angeles Space Force Base in California. “I was attracted to the Space Force because the creation of a new military branch is a unique experience, and I wanted to be a part of it. Being able to work and advance the mission of a newly created branch excites me and inspired me to try to join. I was also told that it was particularly difficult to try to get into the Space Force with the major I had, so I had to try to get in and prove others wrong,” said Rubio, a civil engineering major and a distinguished graduate. Rubio credits the routine VMI instilled in him for four years has helped him become a better person both mentally and physically. His parents pinned him.

A distinguished graduate has a cumulative grade point average (GPA) of 3.5 or above. A graduate with distinction has a cumulative GPA between 3.0 and 3.499.

Marianne Hause
VMI Photos by Kelly Nye, Eric Moore, and H. Lockwood McLaughlin
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