Dr. Bennett's Speeches: Gov. Phil Bryant and Army ROTC

Oct. 11, 2013

Good morning everyone, and thank you for being here today.  Joining me are the Governor of the state of Mississippi and Major General Buff Blount, who will also make comments regarding the U.S. Army’s decision to close the USM Army ROTC program following the 2014-2015 academic year.  Governor Bryant, I want to tell you how much I appreciate your support of our efforts this morning and your support of USM.  General Blount, I appreciate your support and your being here this morning as well.  And I also want to thank Major General Augustus Collins for his attendance and support.

I was first made aware of the decision to close our Army ROTC program on October 2nd, and like many of you, I was surprised and disappointed in that decision.  The University is in the process of determining why the decision was made to discontinue our program in light of the success the program has enjoyed over its nearly 60 years in existence.  We know that our cadets have been and continue to be bright, engaged, and patriotic citizens who stack up favorably against their peers.  To that point, at the most recent annual event called Warrior Forge, which is conducted at Fort Lewis, WA, our cadets competed in the leadership development and assessment course and placed first among the 39 schools in the 6th Brigade, which includes programs in Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia, and Florida.

The University of Southern Mississippi has produced outstanding military leaders for our country for more than six decades.

  • When our country needed a leader to topple the regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, it called upon Major General Buff Blount to lead the charge into Baghdad.
  • When we needed someone to stabilize the Iraqi capital city, our country called upon Major General Jeff Hammond.
  • When we wanted to explore outer space, our country called upon Brigadier General Robert Stewart, whose career as a NASA astronaut included a flight on the maiden voyage of the Space Shuttle Atlantis.
  • These are men whose commitment to country was first formed in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

Today, I expect that included among our 87 cadets is the next General Blount, the next General Hammond and the next General Stewart.

This community upholds a strong tradition of military support.  Hattiesburg, Biloxi, and our surrounding counties are proud to be home for Camp Shelby and Keesler Air Force Base.  We are fortunate as a community to have such a strong military presence, and we could not be more supportive of the men and women who serve our country from right here in South Mississippi.  We are a military friendly community, and this University supports our troops.

Let me re-assure each of you—and especially our current cadets—that as president of The University of Southern Mississippi, I intend to do all that I can to see that this program continues. We have already been in contact with our Congressional delegation, including Senator Thad Cochran, Senator Roger Wicker, and Representative Steven Palazzo, who are supportive of our efforts. Together, along with Governor Bryant, we will aggressively pursue any and all avenues to appeal this decision.

Many of you have asked what you can do to help preserve the ROTC program, and I appreciate your willingness to help.  As we collect more information from our contacts in Washington and our military alums across the country, we will update the University community through our web page and social media outlets.

Again, I appreciate your interest in working with us to continue our tradition of the ROTC program at USM.  And to the many Golden Eagle alums who are serving as active military—thank you for your service to our country.  To the cadets who are here today, to our active servicemen and women, and to the alumni and friends of the Army ROTC program, I pledge to you to help lead the charge to see that Southern Miss Army ROTC continues to serve our state and our nation for many, many years to come.

Please help me welcome to the podium USM alum and Governor of the State of Mississippi, Phil Bryant.