One of the nation's pre-eminent ROTC programs celebrated a top honor awarded to its cadre Thursday, and recognized cadets that have excelled in all phases of their education.
More than 80 members of Georgia Southern's Eagle Battalion were honored for outstanding physical and academic achievements during the 2009-2010 school year at a 4 p.m. ceremony inside the university's Education Building auditorium.
Battalion Commander Lt. Col. George Fredrick also announced that the Georgia Southern ROTC program, for a second consecutive year, was chosen to be one of the country's eight recipients of the U.S. Army MacArthur Award.
The award is presented by the U.S. Army Cadet Command and the Gen. Douglas MacArthur Foundation; it is based on a combination of cadet performance, standing on the Command's national Order of Merit List and a program's cadet retention rate.
"Last year, at this same time, we made the announcement that we had been named a MacArthur award winner, designating us as one of the top eight programs in the country," said Fredrick, speaking to his cadets from the stage. "I then asked you for a favor - that we do it again."
"I told you that we would need to maintain high academic standards, stay focused and continue to do everything we needed to do," he said. "Well, as of yesterday, we were officially notified that Georgia Southern University and its ROTC program are back-to-back MacArthur Award winners."
According to Fredrick, the credit belongs in full to the program's cadets.
"The award speaks volumes. It speaks to the cadets," he said. "They are committed, smart, disciplined, hard-working and they are going to be great officers one day."
"We are attracting some of the best and brightest in the region. What I have seen happen is: we have a set of leaders in this group who work hard and are committed; so people coming in behind them know that they have to come in and work just as hard," he said.
"It is a good day to be a Georgia Southern Eagle," said Master Sgt. James Braet to the students. "There is no doubt in my mind that we have got a great program. You guys are driven individuals and I'm inspired by you everyday. We have great cadets, great staff and we support a great nation."
In addition to the special recognition for the program, 88 cadets were given various honors in celebration of academic and ROTC-related achievements throughout the year.
More than one third of Georgia Southern's enlisted ROTC cadets were called to the stage and rewarded for maintaining a 3.0 GPA or above while participating in a full ROTC schedule - More than 40 of the honorees possessed GPAs of 3.5 or higher.
"It is a great accomplishment," said Fredrick. "The academic rigors of the university are a challenge. For the cadets to commit 18-20 hours each week for academics is a huge responsibility."
To members of the Eagle Battalion, "academics come first, ROTC, second," he said.
Also honored were five cadets who can now call themselves "Iron Eagles."
The Iron Eagle award is presented to individuals who score an ideal mark on three consecutive army physical fitness tests.
"You have to do push-ups, sit-ups and a two-mile run in a certain amount of time," said Fredrick. "To do that in three consecutive tests, in three consecutive months, is pretty rare."
The Iron Eagle winners were: Justin Parker, Tenisha Jordan, Anthony Collazos, Andrew Willette and Stephen Queensberry.
Ivan Toryshin was recognized for having the program's highest GPA (3.91) and Craig Overholt received multiple honors, including recognition as the program's top cadet.
"This is huge. It takes a lot of effort and work to win any rewards," said Overholt. "Tonight was big for the entire battalion. [The awards] speak volumes about the hard work everyone puts in."
Overholt was ranked 21st out of more than 6,000 cadets nationwide for his overall performance.
Like he did one year ago, Fredrick concluded the award ceremony by challenging cadets to stay the course and maintain the Eagle Battalion's status as an elite program.
"I'm going to ask you to do something," he said. "Let's do what we did last year."
"Let's make it three. You do your best and we will do our best."
Jeff Harrison can be reached at 912-489-9454.