One of the great staples of the United States is its commitment to liberty, for which Liberty University founder Dr. Jerry Falwell named the school. For this same reason, Liberty has kept its longstanding tradition of showing a strong commitment and appreciation to its country and service members who diligently protect the freedom it enjoys and emanates through its mission.
Liberty is committed to providing military personnel with a top-notch education, residentially or online, and as part of this year’s Commencement exercises, Liberty’s Office of Military Affairs held a series of special ceremonies to recognize those individuals who have completed their education at Liberty while serving in the military.
“Liberty University appreciates the many sacrifices our service members have made for our freedom. Our military and veteran graduates have completed their degree, many while serving our country, and their service and this academic achievement deserve special recognition,” said Emily Foutz, Director of Liberty University’s Office of Military Affairs.
“The tradition of the military and military service blend so well with the vision of our founder Dr. Jerry Falwell,” said Dr. Ronald Hawkins, Liberty’s vice provost.
On Friday, Liberty held two commissioning ceremonies, recognizing cadets of the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) program as they were sworn in as commissioned officers in the rank of second lieutenant.
The Liberty Eagle Battalion Army ROTC held its commissioning ceremony at Thomas Road Baptist Church’s Bruner Hall as it honored the 25 members of this year’s commissioning class.
Former New Mexico Gov. Toney Anaya delivered the commissioning address, charging the forthcoming officers to value their education and pursue their dreams.
“You can do anything that you set your mind to. You can, and should, dream your dreams, don’t let anyone tell you that when you set your mind, your heart, your faith to a goal that you cannot attain it,” Anaya said. “You have everything that it takes to be the best, to be the greatest that you can be.”
He encouraged them to be ambitious and reminded them that all those who have achieved greatness came from somewhere. He cited his own humble beginnings as example.
“Reach for the skies, don’t let anyone tell you that you cannot accomplish it. Don’t be deterred by individuals who will suggest to you that you are crazy, that you are beyond where you ought to be, because the future leaders of this country have to come from somewhere,” he said.
The U.S. Air Force ROTC Detachment 890 commissioned eight officers during its ceremony at Tower Theater.
Brig. Gen. Randy A. Kee of the Air Force was the guest speaker. He emphasized that every individual is important to the success of any mission, no matter how small his or her duty may seem.
“You are embarking on a life-changing journey, into the service of your country,” he said. “You will forge bonds with other airmen that will carry into the rest of your life. Please know that your service matters."
He asked them to be teachable, vigorous and to be the future, as older officers who become fixed in their outlook need the fresh outlook of the younger.
“How we bring the fight forward matters, everybody has a stake in that outcome,” Kee said. “We need your energy, your focus, enthusiasm and your, perhaps, less intellectually constrained perspectives.”
On behalf of his fellow graduates, soon-to-be 2nd Lt. Nathaniel S. Cromer thanked all the individuals — loved ones, teachers, mentors and the like — for their contribution to their success. He also thanked the university for its dedication to its military students.
“Thank you (Liberty) for your unshaking commitment to being a military-friendly campus. You have provided us a place for us to learn and grow and shape our leadership abilities without faltering and by holding to your standards,” Cromer said. “You have provided us more than a school but a place most of us here would be willing to call a second home.”
At both ceremonies the cadets swore the oath of office and received pins, signifying their new rank. Then, as is tradition, each newly commissioned officer received his or her first salute from a fellow officer. Per tradition, a silver dollar is presented to the officer who gives the new officer their first salute as a sign of respect for the new position. Every salute after that is earned through performance and professionalism.
Following Friday evening’s Baccalaureate service in the Vines Center, Liberty held its first Military Graduate Recognition Ceremony, recognizing the achievements of its service members and veteran students. This year more than 2,000 of Liberty’s graduating class are military personnel.
Hawkins opened the event with an impassioned speech on behalf of the university.
“We want to say in a very special way that we feel that it is our honor to honor you,” he said. “You are a select group from an outstanding group of graduates, and what is remarkable about you is that in so many ways the decision that you have made resembles in remarkably similar ways the decision that people made in the first century when they heard the words of Jesus Christ, ‘Follow me.’”
Maj. Gen. Robert F. Dees, Retired, Associate Vice President for Military Outreach and Director of our nation’s first faith-based Institute for Military Resilience at Liberty University, gave the charge to the military graduates.
He began by acknowledging the sacrifice of those who have or currently serve in the U.S. military.
“We are ‘the land of the free,’ as you appreciate, because of those brave veterans who serve us, have served us, are currently serving us in harm’s way as we speak and will certainly serve us into the future,” he said.
The issue he challenged to Liberty’s military graduates is that they become servant leaders who embody the person of Jesus Christ and lead from “a platform of character and confidence.”
“Never before has our nation needed graduates like you from Liberty University,” Dees said. “We have pervasive mental and behavioral health challenges in our military. We have over a decade of global war on terror and it is not going to end anytime soon. You are sacrificing as much as any military members of our nation have sacrificed in our nation’s history.”
Following the charge, each of the military graduates in attendance, about 700, were presented a challenge coin by an officer from their branch of service.
Dees presented the coin to members of the U.S. Army. The other presenters were Capt. J. Earnest Rogers, U.S. Navy, Retired; Maj. Barry N. Moore, U.S. Marine Corps, Retired; MECS Douglas G. Gilmer, U.S. Coast Guard Reserves; and Brig. Gen. David Young, U.S. Air Force, Retired.
“I transferred here for this program and for this school — a Christian university with a military emphasis in it — I am just so thankful that I came here. I want to serve my Lord through serving my country, I’m prepared to do that now,” said 2nd Lt. Arielle Marino, following the Air Force commissioning ceremony.
“God placed a calling on my life and there was a lot of faith that had to be exercised just to step out here,” said 2nd Lt. Luke Flowers, U.S. Army. “The people that I have met, that God has brought into my life, and my growth and the affirmation of my faith, and trusting my faith, and trusting God and that this is the calling God has placed in my life, it all comes together today.”
Commissioned to the rank of second lieutenant, U.S. Army:
Sarah Beth Chittwood
Commissioned to the rank of second lieutenant, U.S. Air Force: