From admirals to presidents, ISU hosts grand celebration for 70 years of NROTC tradition

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This year marked the 70th anniversary of the Naval ROTC unit at Iowa State University, which was celebrated by a reunion and a Labor Day weekend full of activities.

The festivities commenced with a meet and greet at the American Legion in downtown Ames. Midshipmen mingled with alumni, who were appreciative of the opportunity to come back and relive memories.

Elizabeth Cothron, class of 1978, was the first female midshipman to come through Iowa State. “I didn’t know I was the first female until I signed up," she said. "I never felt any different from the rest of the unit though; the battalion was very welcoming towards me. I was told by the Captain, ‘you are a midshipman now, and we will treat you as such.’”

Alumni recounted some not-so-fond memories as well. “When I was in school, there was still quite a lot of anti-war resentment from the Vietnam era,” Beth Cothron said. “I showed up to class one day in my uniform, and I noticed the instructor’s attitude towards me changed from that point on.” Cothron said she was not given the same opportunities as the rest of the class to resubmit projects or make up assignments. Fortunately, the public and the University are now very supportive of the military.

In fact, not only did Steven Leath, President of Iowa State University, stop by on Saturday, but the Provost of the University, Jonathan Wickert, and the Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Beate Schmittmann, both spoke at the 70th reunion tailgate. They espoused their great pride in the NROTC unit, and highlighted some accomplishments that the unit had achieved in terms of campus involvement and GPA. “I would challenge you to find a better group of young men and women than the ones that stand before you today,” Wickert said.

Wickert, a passionate runner, also enjoys running with the battalion when he can, “although your Captain (Polk) usually beats me,” he said with a laugh. Both he and Dean Schmittmann also had the incredible opportunity to fly with the Blue Angels last year, an experience neither will forget. “It was a childhood dream come true for me,” Schmittmann said.

After an incredible surprise performance from the Iowa State marching band, it was time for the President and CEO of the Iowa State Alumni Association, Jeff Johnson, to fire up the Alumni. He had them dancing on the lawn, and he spoke to the "tradition and pride" that embodies their military service and their dedication to Iowa State.

Afterward, group watched the Cyclones beat the University of Northern Iowa Panthers in the newly expanded Jack Trice Stadium in front of the largest Iowa State crowd of all time. The Naval ROTC Color Guard also provided their award-winning National Anthem flag ceremony before the game.

The 70th Anniversary Alumni weekend wrapped up on Sunday with a cookout at the armory. The alumni enjoyed taking tours of the armory, some of them for the first time in our "new" building. “We used to have our own Naval Science building,” Dr. Thomas Gleason, class of 1978, said. “The entire battalion was a lot bigger back then, too. I think a smaller unit is better in some ways though. Everyone is going to be a lot more tight-knit, more like brothers and sisters.”

Captain Douglas MacCrea, United States Navy retired,former Commanding Officer of the Iowa State NROTC, and 1975 Iowa State alumnus, had some final words for departing alumni. He said the alumni matter very much to the Midshipmen, the Iowa State Alumni Association, and the Iowa State Foundation. He told everyone how important it was that they remain connected and how they could stay involved with the Cyclone Battalion. He applauded the ISU Navy Unit, which has done so much for so many over the years, to include donating more than $12.5 million to Iowa State University – “an amazing amount considering the size of our graduation classes.”

There were many hugs given as the classmates and families departed each other’s company. The bond that makes serving in the military so great was very evident as the alumni of Iowa State’s Navy ROTC program began to leave, but one more wonderful tradition had started: a promise to meet every five years to celebrate each other’s lives in service to our country and beyond.

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NEWS RELEASE College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Iowa State University

Contact: CDR Dan "Chilly" Buhr, United States Navy Executive Officer, Iowa State University, (515) 294-1836, ( LT Joshua A. Riley, Adjunct Instructor, Naval Science, (515) 294-0328, (