Drawing parallels between their values and goals, Fort Hays State University officials welcomed the Kansas National Guard on campus with a ribbon-cutting for a new recruitment office for the guard in the Memorial Union.
Maj. Gen. Lee Tafanelli, Kansas adjutant general, spoke at the news conference in the union lobby Tuesday afternoon, along with FHSU President Tisa Mason, Seth Kastle, assistant professor of leadership studies, and Allen Schmidt, member of the Kansas Board of Regents.
“Here at Fort Hays State University, we pride ourselves on a shared sense of purpose that drives our work. As a university community, we are persistent, innovative and dedicated to supporting and serving our students, our community and definitely our world. This is where our values intersect with those of the Kansas National Guard,” said Mason, who also noted she is the daughter and sister of military veterans.
“We prepare students for success and service, and the guard offers our students a range of superb professional opportunities that build on their experience and their academic work,” she said.
Kastle, a retired U.S. Army first sergeant, was the emcee for the news conference and said the opening of the office on campus was 18 months in the making.
“Seeking out opportunities to serve our men and women in uniform is a responsibility that Fort Hays has always made a top priority,” he said. “Today, with the onset of this partnership, not only are we serving members of our nation’s military, but more specifically, Kansas.”
Tafanelli credited Kastle among those at FHSU and the local Kansas National Guard office with making the campus office possible. The ability to recruit on campus will benefit not only students but ultimately their communities, Tafanelli said.
“A great many of these individuals that will come through here probably won’t make a military career. And that’s OK. Because what we know is that because of that experience, because of those leadership opportunities, they will come back to this community, they will go back to whatever communities they’re from, and they will be better citizens, they will be better community partners. And that’s really what it’s all about,” he said.
Schmidt, who graduated with a master’s degree in school psychology from FHSU in 1977, said in his student days, regents institutions were not so welcoming of the military.
He received his commission in the Army in 1975 after attending the University of Kansas in the Reserve Officer Training Corps. It was right at the end of the Vietnam War.
“It was so negative at KU at that time towards the military that the student government, the faculty government voted to take away academic credit for ROTC. There was even one year we weren’t even allowed to wear uniforms on campus. Contrast that with today,” he said, motioning toward the uniformed National Guard members present for the ribbon-cutting.
“Being able to do this on a campus is a big deal,” he said.
FHSU has had a long history with the military, from its origins as part of the Fort Hays military land granted to the state by the federal government.
In World War I, 365 cadets were part of the school’s Student Army Training Corps, according to the book “Lighthouse on the Plains: Fort Hays State University 1902-2002” by James Forsythe.
The university’s relationship with the military was not always smooth, however. Forsythe noted in his book that in 1970-71, emotions ran high over a proposal for the school to seek an ROTC program.
“Students voted 731 for a voluntary program, 533 against a voluntary program, and 20 for compulsory ROTC, and there was heated debate in the Faculty Senate over the issue,” he wrote.
Ultimately, the federal government decided not to expand ROTC to any campuses that year.
However, the 1980 Reveille yearbook noted the U.S. Army approved an ROTC program for FHSU in January of that year. Five other regents institutions at that time had ROTC programs.
While some campus debates became heated, the yearbook reported, students mostly seemed apathetic toward the issue. A student referendum that year approved of an ROTC program, 203 to 157, the yearbook reported. Total FHSU enrollment at that time was 4,500.
The 1981 Reveille reported 25 students enrolled in Military Science in fall 1980. A two-year program was offered for all majors and a four-year program, while not offering a degree, incurred a military obligation and offered a monthly stipend.
There are mentions of the ROTC program in subsequent yearbooks through 1990.