The Harding University Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) Program teaches military science and leadership while preparing students to become officers for the U.S. Army and the Arkansas National Guard and Reserves. But according to Major Rex Thomen, assistant professor of military science from Arkansas State University (ASU) Beebe, the program provides more than that.
“The army is much more about service than it is about anything else,” Thomen said. “If I’m in charge, my concern is not just with the mission, it’s more about the people underneath me. How are they doing, mentally, physically, spiritually? … How do we affect people when we come across them? That’s what we teach in ROTC.”
According to Dr. Shawn Fisher, the faculty liaison for the program, Harding has had an ROTC program for approximately 22 years. Harding contracted with ASU to provide students the ability to transfer ROTC classes from ASU to Harding. The training is provided through the ASU Red Wolf battalion in Jonesboro, but it takes place within a training company consisting of ASU-Beebe and Harding students. The only difference with today’s program is an informal agreement that allows ROTC instructors to teach their classes on Harding’s campus. Fisher said this change has caused an increase in student involvement with the program.
“A year and a half ago we had 12 cadets total, now we have 31. Nineteen of which are at Harding,” Thomen said. “That’s the largest Harding cadet population ever, and it’s only going to grow.”
The Arkansas Army National Guard assigned Thomen his position as faculty instructor of the ROTC program. According to Thomen, who has been involved with Harding’s program for 13 months, this is the fastest growing ROTC program in Arkansas.
“This school brings in people of great ethics and character,” Thomen said. “Those people already have the commitment and capabilities to be great leaders. So, we take whatever is the best about them already and shape it to give it purpose and direction to make them more of what they already are: dedicated, Christian, strong in the faith, strong in their service.”
Fisher said he got involved with the program after assisting the Harding University Veteran’s Association, which brought the military community at Harding together for one of the first times. After meeting some ROTC students and leadership, Fisher said he felt they needed a faculty member to support them.
“As a former Army infantryman, I felt a camaraderie with these cadets and their cadre,” Fisher said. “As a Christian, I want to help prepare these — my brothers and sisters — for the spiritual challenges of their chosen career.”
Like other student organizations at Harding, the ROTC program hosts service projects and fundraisers. They also exercise together every morning as well as practice military leadership skills on the weekends and during summer training camps.
Senior Andrew Davis, public relations officer for the ROTC program, has been involved since 2014, when there were only three students.
“We look out for one another, and we uplift each other,” Davis said. “We really are a family here. I think that’s the best part about this program.”
According to Davis, students can get involved with the program in many different ways. Students can join the ROTC program with no commitment for their first two years, and they welcome students to join them in physical training at the track at 6 a.m. every day.
“They’ve tried to do as much as they can to build their report to show that they’re here,” Dean of Students Zach Neal said. “They’re serving, not just the country, but they’re here to serve Harding.”