U.S. Air Force commissions 40 Norwich University ROTC cadets at 2021 ceremony

Norwich’s U.S. Air Force ROTC detachment, No. 867, made history on May 1, when it commissioned its largest group since 1972 — 40 cadets. And Col. Matthew Smith, the detachment’s commander, was proud and pleased.

“We usually don’t commission this many people,” Smith said May 1 in Mack Hall. “That means one of two things — they’re really, really good, or your cadre is really, really good. … I would argue it’s the cadets … the new lieutenants were tremendous.”

Smith told the soon-to-commission Class of 2021 that the moment was theirs and was a year in the making. Everyone from President Dr. Mark Anarumo to the Facilities Operations team to several cadets, had worked to make the moment special, he said.

“At the end of your Air Force career, at the end of your Space Force career … you want to drop that mic, hang up that uniform and say, ‘You know what? I left it all out there on the field.’”Norwich University President Dr. Mark Anarumo

Smith shared three favorite quotes his son, Peyton, who died in October at age 18 from an aggressive form of pediatric bone cancer, had called his favorites.

“Don’t tell me the sky’s the limit when there are footprints on the moon.” — country musician Paul Brandt.

“My charge to you is to put your footprints on whatever moon you want to put your footprints on,” Smith said. “Whatever you do, don’t set your expectations low, because if you’re limiting yourself … you’re doing yourself a disservice.”

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U.S. Air Force Col. Matthew Smith speaks at the U.S. Air Force commissioning ceremony on May 1. (Screenshot from video/Norwich University.)

“If you have the opportunity to play this game of life, you need to appreciate every moment. A lot of people don’t appreciate the moment until it’s passed.” — rapper Kanye West.

“You can show up for work and say, ‘I’m just going to do the min(imum) effort … or you can choose to be present,” Smith said. “You can choose to engage. You can choose to make a difference in your wingman’s life … your subordinates’ (lives), your superiors’ (lives)  … you can be curious, you can explore, you can be daring.”

— “Start unknown, finish unforgettable.” — Nike ad (attributed to ballet dancer Misty Copeland).

“The airmen, you’re going to supervise, the guardian (Space Force personnel) you’re going to supervise in the future have no idea who you are,” Smith said, “But here’s the deal. At the end of that assignment, at the end of your Air Force career, at the end of your Space Force career, you want to be unforgettable in the most positive manner possible. You want to drop that mic, hang up that uniform and say, ‘You know what? I left it all out there on the field.’”

As he saw commissionees into the service, Smith introduced the officer who will train U.S. Space Force aspirants in the fall, James Olsen M’19, a U.S. Space Force captain who will soon become major.

Olsen on Sept. 10 transitioned from the U.S. Air Force to the U.S. Space Force. Anarumo, who retired from the Air Force in August as a colonel, administered Olsen’s oath. Olsen was the first Air Force officer in Vermont to transfer into the Space Force.

2021’s graduating class included two Air Force ROTC students who will commission into the U.S. Space Force later this summer. They’ll follow in the footsteps of Norwich’s first U.S. Space Force commissionee, Zachary C. Van Buskirk ’20.

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U.S. Air Force Maj. Jacob Hummel elbow bumps newly commissioned U.S. Air Force 2nd Lt. Gabrielle Caouette ’21, on March 1 at Mack Hall. (Screenshot from video/Norwich University.)

Parting gifts

Smith sent the graduates off with gifts. To the four new lieutenants who were Distinguished Graduates, having finished in the top 10% of their graduating class, he gave copies of “The Bomber Mafia,” New Yorker magazine writer Malcolm Gladwell’s newly released book.

To all the commissionees, he gave items with the detachment’s special Yeti logo, patches, stickers and challenge coins, to replace the ones probably given away to the people delivering first salutes. Smith told the new officers to keep the coins with them, in a pocket in their fatigues, flight suit or dress uniform. By tradition, people caught without the coins buy drinks for people who challenge them to produce the coins.

Smith also gave away pens engraved with each new officer’s name. The names were in gold, like the 2nd lieutenant’s bars the commissionees had pinned on. The space next to the names were left blank, Smith said, so the pens’ holders could imagine filling in aspired-to ranks.

“If you don’t think you have it in you, you have it in you,” Smith said. “You guys have that gumption … and not because of any sort of pandemic, you had it in you long before that.”

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