With decades commanding troops, taking care of logistical and operational needs in the military and serving around the world, the University of Arizona Reserve Officers' Training Corps instructors have a wealth of leadership experience to share with students.
And they can each credit such training programs (ROTC) for furthering their own career advancement in the military.
ROTC account for roughly 70 percent of all active duty officers commissioned by the U.S. Department of Defense each year coming and, as a land-grant institution, the UA has a long and proud tradition of military training.
The UA's involvment came in the 1890s, when cadets were commissioned into the Arizona Territorial National Guard. Today, University's ROTC programs
– Air Force, Army and Navy – provide training for hundreds of students interested in careers in military service.
The instructors, active-duty military officers who have chosen a new path in their own careers to serve on campus, are leading and training by example.
Army Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin J. Walters
Walters, who arrived at the UA two years ago, enlisted in the Army when he was 17, attracted to that particular branch out of an urge to travel.
“Military service to me is what I always wanted to do," Walters said. "When I was 16, I went to Europe with my high school for a 30-day trip. The Army said if you enlist with us, we can send you to Europe for your first duty assignment, so I jumped at the opportunity, enlisted and was stationed in Germany when I was 18."
Walters spent more than five years as an enlisted soldier, then took advantage of the Army’s Green to Gold program, returning to his home state of Utah to attend Weber State University’s ROTC program.
"I always knew that being an enlisted guy wasn’t the be all and end all for me. I didn’t know if I wanted it to be a career, but I knew I wanted to continue as an officer," said Walters, who chose to become a transportation officer, a job he believed had skills that would transfer from the military to the civilian sector.
Walters first duty assignment as an officer was at Fort Story in Virginia as a platoon leader responsible for 45 soldiers working in cargo transfer, loading or discharging military cargo from large ocean-going ships. After that, at 26, he was a military port commander in Saudi Arabia, responsible for all U.S. surface military cargo into or out of the kingdom.
After that, Walters was again stationed in Europe, deploying to Kosovo and later to Kuwait and Iraq for Operation Iraqi Freedom, commanding a transportation company. Next, be traveled the world with the Army and Air Force Exchange Service, and later deployed to Afghanistan, where he led the Army’s largest logistics battalion at that time.
"I learned a lot about myself and what it means to serve," Walters said.
After his 23 years of service, Walters had some preconceived notions about leading an ROTC program, but wasn’t entirely prepared for what he encountered at the UA, where he works with about 150 cadets a year.
"We’re all rowing together or the common purpose of recruiting the best talent we can, training that talent and making sure they’re well prepared to serve their country," he siad. "We don’t teach people what to think, we teach people how to think. We don’t want robots. We want people to step back from a complex problem, look at it holistically and make a sound decision."
And, after years of traveling across the globe, Walters is happy to be back near home.
"I always wanted an opportunity to serve in the Southwest," he said. "Once I found out I was coming to Tucson I was very excited about that. I’ve always been excited about Tucson. It’s a great community and a great place to continue to serve."
Air Force Colonel Brian Donahoo
Donahoo is in his first year commanding the UA’s ROTC program.
Donahoo grew up as a Navy brat and enlisted as an airman, initially fixing C-130 transport aircraft, but said, tongue in cheek, he didn’t have the aptitude for maintenance and jumped at a chance to fly planes himself.
"I was an undisciplined kid and the reason I joined up was I got some advice from my dad. I didn't have a lot of purpose in life and my dad just said pick (a branch)," he said. "If you’d asked me way back when if I’d still be in it, I’d have said 'No way,' but here I am."
Donahoo first career boost came when he got into the ROTC at Fayetteville State University in North Carolina.
"ROTC is designed to be that initial stepping stone for getting your commission in the service. It s a very methodical and well thought out way to introduce people to military service," he said of his own experience. "The foundation is about what military service is all about, what air power is all about, how to be a good leader."
Donahoo says flying is a realized dream of his, but that in some ways, his last assignment as Central Command Chief of Current Operations was a career highlight.
"My wife and my daughter joked at the time that I might have well been deployed because I was home so seldom, but it was a great experience in terms of joint operations," he said. "I had the privilege of working with some great officers and enlisted folks from all of the services."
Now in ROTC leadership, Donahoo is pleased to be able to offer to students so much of what he’s been able to learn.
"One of the favorite things I like talking to young people or parents about is that our Air Force is the finest the world has ever seen," he said. "The reason its true is not because of our planes or our satellites or our technology, it's because of the people that make up the Air Force."
Donahoo says his goal at the ROTC is to be able to take students who come in with no prior military knowledge and give them everything they need to succeed, emphasizing both the classroom and the additional training.
"Item one is you're not going to get your commission if you don't make the grades," he said. "Everything they do from day one is going to be evaluated in terms of grades, leadership and participation. We'll do everything we can to give them the skill set they need. The rest is up to them."
Donahoo says the welcome he has received at the UA reminds him of walking through airports on the way back home from deployments and the gratification at being thanked by complete strangers for his military service.
"This is not a regular job. Those of us who become officers do not give our allegiance to a king or government. We raise our right hand and swear to defend the constitution of the United States," he said. "That’s what I like to pass on to young people: the constitution is what makes America what it is and defense of our nation is a very serious business."
Marine Corps Colonel Michael Kuhn
Also new to the UA ROTC program this year Kuhn, himself a product of the Naval ROTC program. Though not from a military family, he and his brother both pursued military service after high school.
"What drew us to it was basically the sense of serving the country," he said. "I was always fascinated by the Marine Corps every time I saw it in the news or saw a Marine in person and what that stood for and the prestige tied to the Marine Corps."
Growing up in western Maryland, Kuhn went into the ROTC program at Old Dominion University in Virginia.
"I’ll be the first to admit that I struggled to get into a university and struggled when I first got there. But the Naval ROTC program, just like we have here, provided an environment that helped me succeed," he said.
A ground combat officer (amphibious mechanized) by trade, Kuhn has been deployed to the Mediterranean several times; the Persian Gulf region and also the Western Pacific. He also spent five years in Korea and Okinawa.
"The greatest opportunities, aside from all the intangibles of seeing great places around the world, is working with the allied military forces,” said Kuhn, who most recently led the 1,100 active duty members of Headquarters Battalion, 3rd Marine Division, turning over command in June.
Being in command is the most rewarding part of the job, Kuhn said, but he took a strong interest in working with young people toward careers as Naval and Marine officers. In fact, many similarities between his most recent command, where most were under the age of 22, and his new assignment.
"They’re away from home for the first time and there are similar challenges, obstacles and exciting opportunities, as with the Midshipmen here. They’re trying to fit in, trying to learn their jobs, trying to be successful," he said.
"I’m going to apply those same sorts of things we did at the battalion here at the unit and get them comfortable, to set them up for success and to provide them with as much experience and leadership tools as possible for them to excel in the fleet after commissioning," he also said.
Kuhn had never been to Tucson before arriving on campus for ROTC duty, but he had previously been stationed at California's Camp Pendleton in and wanted to return to the region.
"The reason it was our first choice is because it was out West and we wanted to come out and serve and live in this part of the country again," he said. "In a month, I’ve fallen in love with this place, the campus, the community and the climate."