The nation’s best Army ROTC cadet is a student at the University of North Georgia.
A Gainesville native, Jonathan Strickland was recently ranked the nation’s No. 1 Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps cadet and the Cadet of the Year for the U.S.
Strickland said he was honored to receive the ranking and considers it “a great achievement for UNG, the ROTC program, and the local community.”
Strickland is one of a prestigious group of North Georgia cadets ranked in the top percentile in the nation. Approximately one-third of the university’s 83 cadets ranked in the top 20 percent. Five cadets — Strickland, Brandon Blaylock, Cody Dewald, Lane Hodnett and Mitchell Watson — were ranked in the top 10 percent.
“Cadet Strickland is an absolutely perfect exemplar for United States Army Cadet Command,” said Col. Todd Wilson, head of the university’s military department.
“But he’s also a perfect exemplar for a very talented group of cadets that we will commission this year at North Georgia and provide to our Army in order for them to do their duty as officers, to protect and defend the constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”
Strickland will commission as a second lieutenant in military intelligence upon graduation in May 2015. He branched into military intelligence, but volunteered to branch detail into infantry. He plans to attend Infantry Basic Officer Leader School at Fort Benning next summer.
Strickland, described by his instructors and parents as “humble and courteous,” is an international affairs major with a Middle East concentration, a minor in Arabic language studies and a perfect 4.0 grade-point average.
His mother Tracy Strickland credited the university and the Army for providing an environment in which her son could thrive. His father Jon Strickland described his son as a “silent leader.”
“One of the biggest things I recognize about him is his humility,” Jon Strickland said. “There’s humility in being able to look at and understand other cultures without passing judgment.”
Strickland is currently doing an internship with the Middle East Faculty at the NATO Defense War College in Rome, Italy. Twice a year, the faculty holds the NATO Regional Cooperation course with partners from the Middle East and North Africa Region, according to Strickland.
“It is a strategic level thinking course, and we receive many high level speakers who provide a wide variety of perspectives on the security issues that face NATO and the Middle East,” he said. “This experience has been extremely beneficial for me. I have made many high level contacts, both civilian and military, from NATO and partner countries.”
All international affairs majors must select a region of concentration, study abroad and complete an internship related to their region, according to Dr. Jonathan Miner, Strickland’s academic adviser.
“The international affairs major is designed to give students an understanding of how the international system works,” Miner said. “So they take a series of classes in politics regarding how to understand international system and how to make sense of the different interactions between countries and the United States’ interactions with these different countries.”
The internship in Rome is not Strickland’s first time outside the U.S. Miner directs a study abroad program to Istanbul, Turkey, which Strickland joined in 2012.
Strickland said he chose his major because he believes military officers, whether at the tactical, operational or strategic level, need to know how to work with other cultures.
“As the role of the military has shifted toward an organization that is responsible for defense, seeking cooperative security with allied militaries, and intervening to provide crisis management in unstable regions of the world, it is important to understand the relations between countries and the economic, social, security and governance problems they face,” Strickland said.
Wilson said in 2013, Strickland also participated in a program called the Cadet Troup Leader Training, in which he served as a rifle platoon leader with an active-duty unit in Alaska. His company commander from the program told Wilson that Strickland was the best platoon leader he’d seen.
“That reinforced the quality of this young man,” Wilson said. “I’ve known him for 2« years, so I know he’s a unique individual. But this captain had the opportunity to observe him for three weeks, and in three weeks Cadet Strickland made enough impact that he wanted to call his colonel as professor of military science and tell me what he thought.”
Strickland said while he’s learned a great deal through his coursework, the challenges of studying and working abroad are equally part of the learning process.
“Working in Rome and studying in Istanbul positively contribute to personal growth in more practical ways as well,” he said. “Learning your way around a new city, in a country where you barely know the language, you get a new perspective on life, and it forces you to solve new problems that you may not have encountered before.”