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ROTC grads get their officer bars in commissioning ceremony prior to graduation at East Tennessee State University

Becky Campbell • May 4, 2018 at 11:26 PM

Eleven East Tennessee State University ROTC cadets received their second lieutenant commissions Friday and will serve in a variety of Army components as their college careers culminate with graduation this weekend.

The officers will serve in a variety of areas, including several local Tennessee Army National Guard units as well as full-time military battalions, brigades and corps. The special pinning ceremony allowed friends and relatives to participate as their soldiers received officer epaulets to designate their rank. The officers also took the U.S. Army oath, in which they vow to support and defend the U.S. Constitution against foreign and domestic enemies and remain allegiant to the U.S.

The new second lieutenants will attend an officer basic training specific to their military job and then begin their duty assignments. The officers, their officer school and their duty locations were:

• Christopher Banks, Field Artillery Officer Basic Course, 278th Armored Cavalry Regiment of the Tennessee National Guard in Kingsport;

• Sydney Barnett, Adjutant General Officer Basic Course, 278th Armored Cavalry Regiment of the Tennessee National Guard in Kingsport;

• Victoria Bond, 1032nd Detachment Transportation Company in Abingdon, Virginia;

• Logan Fleenor, Ordnance Corps Officer Basic Course, 0710 Combat Support Battalion Brigade in Fort Polk, Louisiana; 

• Ashley Hayes, Medical Services Corps Officer Basic Course, Medical Services Corps in Fort Stewart, Georgia;

• Robert Hodge, Ordnance Corps Officer Basic Course, Ordnance Corps in Fort Lewis, Washington;

• Hunter Robinson, Quartermaster Corps Officer Basic Course, 730th Quartermaster Company of the Tennessee National Guard in Gray;

• Sean Robinson, Signal Corps Officer Basic Course, 136th Signal Battalion, Charlie Company, in Houston, Texas;

• Lori Rock, Army Corps of Engineers;

• Andrew Skeens, Infantry; and 

•Nicholas K. Yegon, Ordnance Corps Officer Basic Course, Ordnance Corps, Fort Carson, Colorado.

Each cadet also choses a current or former enlisted military soldier or officer to be the first to salute them and in turn, the cadet handed that person a silver dollar. It’s a tradition that dates back to Colonial times, but was authorized by Congress in 1972. It’s the only coin given in exchange for the first salute.

Retired Maj. Gen. Gary Harrell, an ETSU graduate who went on to command a special forces team, a SCUBA team, an Airborne rifle company and special operation Delta Force during Desert Shield and Desert Storm, regaled the new officers with some of his military experiences and gave them some advice.

“Surround yourself with the best people, give them broad range and get the hell out of the way,” he said. Harrell was wounded by mortar fire during United Nations relief efforts in Somalia, the same relief effort chronicled in “Black Hawk Down.” But the injury didn’t stop Harrell’s military service. He went on to lead U.S. forces in 25 nations surrounding the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. After the USS Cole was attacked, Harrell was deployed to Yemen and in 2001 he was the assistant division commander for the 10th Mountain Division in Afghanistan.

Harrell now works in the private sector and lives in Johnson City with his wife.

He told the new officers that in their new professions, they won’t punch a clock nor will they be off duty.

“Being a leader is not about being right,” he said to the graduating officers. “To the extreme, it’s about making an informed decision to keep a soldier alive on the battlefield. It’s about being tough but fair. It is about being consistent. It is about being with your soldiers. Make no mistake, you can’t inspire .... or provide motivation if you’re not there. Know your soldiers, show empathy, train them, educate them ... create tough, shared experiences.”

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