A call to serve their country compels some volunteers toward a very different kind of “service work”
What compels someone to put his or her life on the line? Why would anyone take a job that could require leaving family behind, perhaps for months or years at a time? Who would volunteer to face natural disasters, humanitarian crises, war-torn regions, and hostile fire?
What kind of person joins the U.S. military?
There’s no single answer to those questions. People’s reasons for serving their country through military service are varied and complex. But many of the reasons come back to that very word: serving. People feel strongly about the United States, about the way of life and opportunities it represents both at home and abroad, and about the need to protect that now and in the future.
Tennessee is the Volunteer State, and we are the University of Tennessee Volunteers. You could only expect that many UT students and alumni choose to volunteer for military service.
Aid in Afghanistan
Scott Delius (’91) had a successful law practice in Atlanta. But he shut it down for seven months to go to Afghanistan.
“I volunteered to go because it was a once-in-a-career opportunity to train and mentor the Afghan army leadership and help build their military justice system from the ground up,” said Delius, who is a captain in the Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) Corps.
Delius joined the Army National Guard “late in life, at 35”—after 9/11.
“Our country was attacked, and I felt a responsibility to help defend it,” he said.
It hasn’t been easy. After Delius returned from his deployment, it was very difficult to start his civilian law practice again. “If I were to deploy again, I probably would not be able to rebuild it again,” he acknowledged. “However, serving my country is important to me, and I accept that possibility.”
While he was in Afghanistan, Delius “rarely sat behind a desk,” he said. Instead, he had the opportunity to train the Afghan army and to execute humanitarian aid missions.
“While we were scouting an area to deliver aid,” he said, “I saw kids with bare feet in below-freezing temperatures. I couldn’t get that image out of my mind and I decided to do something about it.”
What Delius did was begin a clothing drive. He was writing a blog to keep friends and family updated about his deployment. “Look at these beautiful children,” he wrote alongside the photographs he posted. “Notice how they hold their arms close because they are so cold.” He asked readers to contribute what they could—clothes, shoes, tents, money—to help those children.
The results astounded him—then, in 2007, and still today.
Within a couple of months of making his plea, Delius received more than 200 boxes of clothes and $4,000.
“I was overwhelmed by the response of my family, friends, and complete strangers,” Delius said.
And though Delius has been back home in the U.S. for nearly three years now, he still is operating the clothing drive.
“I’ve kept in contact with the soldiers who rotate into my previous location, and they’ve graciously accepted the aid that I’m able to coordinate to send them,” Delius said. “There’s an ongoing need for humanitarian aid. Just because I came home safe doesn’t mean that need goes away.”
“I’ve loved planes since I was little,” said DeAnna Ketterer, “and the Air Force was my opportunity to be around a lot of airplanes!”
Ketterer and her husband, John Owens, met while they both were participating in the Air Force ROTC program at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. After graduating in 1990, both pursued careers with the United States Air Force (USAF). Today, Owens has 19 years of service and is chief of Total Force Integration for USAF; Ketterer has 16 years of service, both active and reserve, and is chief of Strategic Airlift Programming and Requirements for Air Force Reserve. Both are based in the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.
There are challenges to being a dual-military household.
“Our schedules are very fluid, so there’s a lot of planning required to make sure everything is taken care of,” Ketterer said.
Owens cited “lots of time apart” as a major challenge as well, but also noted some of the rewards of service: bringing together the efforts of many people for a common purpose; feeling a sense of contribution to a cause greater than oneself; a great education both in the classroom and in “real life.”
Highlights of their careers include being stationed in Germany for four years—their favorite assignment—and deployments to Qatar (Owens) and flying in and out of Iraq (Ketterer).
“The U.S. military is so successful due to the patriotism instilled in Americans,” Owens said. “We believe in the ideal of freedom…and we are willing to be its most ardent supporters.”
For those considering military service, Ketterer offered advice: “Talk to your friends and relatives in the branches you are considering and realize that each branch has a very specific purpose. Once you have educated yourself on which service meets your needs, go for it!
“In addition, I would expand on the opportunities in the Guard and Reserves,” said Ketterer. “The Guard and Reserves provide the opportunity to serve your country while pursuing a civilian career.”
Just this past year, Ketterer has returned to active duty with the Reserves. Previously, she had been flying for United Airlines as a civilian career. “In this crazy economy, I couldn’t pass up the chance of a full-time job with enormous benefits,” she said of her decision. “I was already serving my country; I just signed up to do it full-time.”
A Tradition of Service
Military service and the University of Tennessee go hand in hand. In 1844, there was no Rock. There was no Neyland Stadium, no Torchbearer, and no beloved Smokey. At least in name, there was no University of Tennessee—just East Tennessee College, which had not too long before moved its operations to a peaceful hill outside the bustle of downtown Knoxville.
And yet, before all of the things that we identify with UT Knoxville had come to be, there was a program on campus that remains to this day. It began as an infantry company and through the years has grown and evolved through various iterations to become today’s Reserve Officer Training Corps, better known as ROTC.
Throughout the 166 years since, UT students have trained and committed themselves to the service of their nation through the military. UT Knoxville is now home to two different ROTC programs, the U.S. Air Force ROTC Detachment 800 and the U.S. Army ROTC Rocky Top Battalion.
ROTC students come from a wide variety of backgrounds according to Air Force Lt. Col. Mike Angle, but there are common threads among all the cadets that reflect their desire to serve.
“Our cadets are very aware of their legacy, as well as the deep military traditions of the university and the state of Tennessee,” said Angle, who serves as commander of Detachment 800. “They are smart… Most of them are athletic, but we have very few Division I athletes at any given time… Most of them are very patriotic and want to do something extraordinary with their lives.”
Currently there are about 100 students participating in Detachment 800. These cadets include nursing students, a couple of students in law school, a student who has been approved by the Air Force to delay her commissioning to enter medical school.
“Our cadets are in many ways not much different than the average student here at UT,” Angle said. “They endeavor to be doctors, lawyers, pilots, engineers, etc. But all of them are here to become officers first and leaders of men and women while they serve their nation.”
To learn those leadership skills, Angle said, the cadets “learn by doing.” Each semester, a cadet commander is given a 40-page mission directive that he or she must execute by choosing, organizing, and training a staff to meet the specified academic, military, and physical fitness goals. Additionally, cadets plan special events for speakers and other guests, and they have opportunities to participate in training such as language immersion programs, combatives training, Parachute Freefall at the U.S. Air Force Academy, and, in conjunction with the Army ROTC, Army Air Assault Training at Fort Campbell, Ky.
In addition to their ROTC-focused activities, UT cadets also are involved in the usual campus and community activities.
“The cadets’ community involvement is extensive,” Angle said. Cadets participate in service projects that are popular with many UT students, like Dance Marathon and Relay for Life. They also participate in events like the local Veterans Day parade and visit the Ben Atchley State Veterans Home—“a great experience for the cadets and the veterans.”
The ROTC can provide scholarships, leadership training, a jumpstart to a career, an outlet for patriotism… But what it ultimately gives to cadets is what they put into it. “Our program does require an investment of their time,” Angle said. But the dividends are high.
If you are a graduate of the Army ROTC program, contact Mary Floyd at firstname.lastname@example.org to update your alumni record.