ROTC program has record membership, new leader
By Ryan Kryska
GCU News Bureau
The Army Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program at Grand Canyon University has its largest membership in the University’s history and a new officer leading the cadets this fall.
Capt. Mia Odom arrived at GCU at the beginning of the school year after working as an assistant professor for two years at Arizona State University. Odom was born and raised in the Valley before enrolling at the U.S. Military Academy. She commissioned into the aviation branch, attending the Army’s rotary-wing flight school.
Odom served a 12-month tour in Afghanistan with the 82nd Airborne Division flying Blackhawk helicopters and then was stationed at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., for two years, where she trained soldiers to fly unmanned aviation systems. She now oversees the 75 cadets in GCU’s ROTC program.
“I’ve really enjoyed my experience at GCU. I’m proud of the quality of the cadets,” Odom said. “The staff here has been super helpful. I’m hoping we can integrate a lot more within the University.”
ROTC is a program for college students who wish to pursue active or reserve service with the military. Cadets can compete for full scholarships that include a monthly living-expense stipend and an annual book stipend. At the beginning of their senior year, the cadets submit requests to go into active duty, the state National Guard or the federal Army Reserve.
“ROTC is a development program that trains people to be adaptive leaders of character,” Odom said. “There are a lot of opportunities within ROTC. It’s a place for people who want to learn and grow and become leaders and critical thinkers. … Ideally, they come freshman year, but we do have some people that come their sophomore year.”
The GCU Thunder Battalion essentially is run by students, but Odom is their mentor. Two of the seniors who have taken leadership roles in the program are Andrew Schwab and Ryan Garner.
Schwab, an Honors College student, has two siblings who also attend GCU and are in ROTC — Beth Schwab and Clay Schwab.
“It’s a ton of fun just having them around campus,” he said, “and being that they are both in ROTC, I get to see them every day. I live with my brother, but getting to see Beth out there, too, is a lot of fun, and seeing them go through the same stuff I went through, we can share the same stories.”
Schwab said Odom is making a concerted effort to fully align the program with the University, such as having the cadets participate in events with the Havocs and other student groups.
ROTC has presented both Schwab and Garner with a multitude of opportunities. Schwab, a business management major, spent the summer in Bulgaria through the ROTC’s Cultural Understanding Leadership Program.
“The Army will send you to a different nation for a month, and you train with them and learn from them and get to do a mission,” Schwab said. “Any task is called a mission. In Bulgaria, it was to help teach conversational English to Bulgarian officers. You probably wouldn’t see that opportunity in any other club. That is probably the most unique experience.”
Garner said a big part of his role as a senior has been to organize the Thunder Battalion’s Ranger Challenge team.
The challenge is the Army’s ROTC varsity sport. It puts university teams up against each other in a variety of categories, including a land navigation test, physical fitness challenges and a rifle marksmanship competition. There is also a mystery challenge every year.
“They’re grueling,” Garner said. “That’s the fun of it when you are faced with a daunting task. That’s where the team-building comes out. That’s where your friendships really develop.”
Garner, a finance and economics major, said he is hoping to make it into the infantry branch when he commissions.
“The Army instills discipline in everybody,” Garner said. “You don’t have to go to the military to learn discipline, but the way the military is structured, it just makes life so much better. It helps you figure out what goals you want and helps you achieve those goals.”
Contact Ryan Kryska at (602) 639-8415 or [email protected].