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Military graduates honored at special ceremony

Dr. Steven Keith (Chap. Col. USAF Ret.), who serves as director of the Liberty University Center for Chaplaincy in the School of Divinity, delivered an impassioned charge to the approximately 350 graduates on hand for the fifth annual Military Graduate Recognition Ceremony, Friday night at the Vines Center.

While saluting them for the dedication required to complete their degrees — especially those in the midst of military careers — Keith challenged graduates to live out their faith and follow their “Commander-in-Chief,” Jesus Christ, into whatever field God has called them.

“We in the military understand what personal sacrifice is,” he said. “The valor, the character, the selflessness, the sacrifice, the commitment that we all must give to our country you brought to the education process. There are people all around the globe right now, military members, taking the God-given character that you have and applying it to the education process and we are so proud of you.”

Over 5,800 military service members, veterans, and military spouses will graduate on Saturday, approximately 30 percent of the more than 19,000 total graduates.

Keith called the graduates to dedicate their lives to service to the Lord wherever they go, modeling the sacrificial love Christ displayed.

“We can train you to be a Champion for Christ, and you’ve put in the commitment, but the decision is yours to be all in for Jesus Christ,” Keith said. “In Philippians 2, the Lord Jesus humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross, that we might live, that we might enjoy spiritual freedom. In Mark 8:34, Jesus said, ‘Take up your cross and follow Me.’ He’s King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He’s the God of the Universe. He’s the Commander-in-Chief. He wants you to be all in and follow Him with all of your heart.”

Dr. Ben Gutierrez, Liberty’s vice provost for Academic Administration, welcomed the active, reserve, and retired members of the military who are a part of Liberty’s Class of 2016 to the ceremony which was organized by Liberty’s Office of Military Affairs.

“We are so proud of each and every one of you, your commitment not only to your academic pursuits, but your conviction to provide and protect for us and this nation,” Gutierrez said. “You will find no more grateful institution, that is more proud to honor your valor, your conviction, and your commitment to this country, than Liberty University.”

The ceremony concluded with the awarding of commemorative coins — engraved with images of the Bible, the American flag, and a graduation cap — honoring their service in the military and completion of their respective degrees. The coins were presented to each graduate in attendance by Liberty administrators and faculty members who have served in their respective branch of the United States Armed Forces: Army — 1st Lt. Keith Anderson, Hon. Dis.; Lt. Col. David Dinsmore, Ret.; Lt. Col. Stephen Parke, Ret.; Chaplain Maj. Mark Tinsley, Ret.; Air Force — Dr. Keith, Chaplain, Col., Ret.; Lt. Col. Robert Young, Ret.; Marine Corps — Capt. Robert Ritchie, U.S. Air Force, Ret.; Col. Jeffrey Tuomala, Ret.; Navy and Coast Guard — Lt. Cmdr. James Long, Ret.; Lt. Cmdr. William Waddell, Ret. 

Another 150 spouses of military members were honored at the second annual Military Spouse Graduate Recognition Ceremony held earlier in the day.

Liberty also held two special commissioning ceremonies for its Reserve Officers’ Training Corps programs. The Liberty Eagle Battalion Army ROTC and Liberty’s U.S. Air Force ROTC Detachment 890 each celebrated their graduating cadets as they were sworn in as second lieutenants in their respective branches. Each cadet was presented with a pin signifying their rank and then received their first salute.

Senior Kyle Seeger, who served in Afghanistan and was based at Fort Riley in Kansas with Liberty Army ROTC Col. Bret Hamilton, was recognized as the second recipient of the Major Michael J. Donahue Award.

Named in honor of the former Liberty faculty member and alumnus who was killed Sept. 17, 2014, in a Taliban attack on a U.S. military base outside Kabul, Afghanistan, the award is presented annually to the second- or third-year Army ROTC cadet who has provided leadership and inspiration to others through his or her unmatched selflessness, work ethic, and integrity.

Seeger will receive a $1,000 scholarship toward his senior year college expenses.

Commissioned to the rank of second lieutenant, U.S. Army:

Ryan Fowle, Infantry

Caleb Grow, Infantry

Kevin Hogan, Chemical Corps

Alec Hulbert, Quartermaster Corps

Caleb Hwang, Military Police

Bethany Jenkins, Adjutant General

Elisa Lyon, Nurse Corps

Lee Munoz, Infantry

Josiah Nagel, Signal Corps

Jordan Russell, Infantry

Kendall Warr, Quartermaster

Sean Witherspoon, Corps of Engineers

Aaron York, Military Intelligence

Commissioned to the rank of second lieutenant, U.S. Air Force:

Joel Ackerman, Aircraft Maintenance

Sean Cothran, Pilot Trainee

Brian Curtis, Nursing

Jonas Foster, Cyberspace Trainee

Alexander Robichaud, Pilot Trainee

Elayne Smith, Nursing

T. Cameron Swathwood, Ballistics Missile Officer

Christopher Tinsley, Combat Systems Officer Trainee

Kolton White, Pilot Trainee

Notes: Ackerman is graduating from Liberty’s School of Aeronautics (SOA) while Cothran, who served on the school’s NIFA team last fall, will receive a minor from the SOA. Ackerman will begin aircraft maintenance training at Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota and Cothran will start undergraduate pilot training at Columbus Air Force Base in Mississippi this fall along with Robichaud and White. Tinsley will be based at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Fla. Swathwood will be stationed at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Curtis and Smith will train at San Antonio (Texas) Military Medical Center. Foster was commissioned at a ceremony in December and is currently at Keesler Air Force Base in Mississippi.

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Liberty University is not affiliated with the Department of Defense or any military service.