Cadet 1st Lt. Eric Gleason, the No. 8 Army cadet in the nation, didn’t always plan for a military education.
But he’s grateful for it.
“It’s given me a group of people throughout college to work with and learn through,” said the University of North Georgia cadet. “It’s not a family environment necessarily, but you grow up in a cohort of sorts. I always call it ‘growing up’ with these people, because you really do. You’re a part of it, and you grow in it.”
The Corps of Cadets at the University of North Georgia is more than 140 years old and routinely produces state and national military leaders. Cadets are in a “tough program,” comparable to life in the U.S. Army with daily structure designed to build strength and character.
“The Corps itself is doing well here,” said U.S. Army retired Maj. Richard Neikirk, assistant commandant of cadets. “We’re strong. At North Georgia, we’ve produced over 40 general officers out of this program.”
The university has an only Army ROTC program, meaning no ROTC programs for other military branches, and it is one of six senior military colleges in the nation.
“Sometimes people get that confused with just a regular college, but we’ve been identified by the Department of Defense to teach ROTC,” Neikirk said. “More or less, the Department of Defense makes us a pseudo-military academy, like West Point or the Naval Academy. They are federally-sponsored and we are state-sponsored.”
The Corps of Cadets is the heart of the program, with 748 cadets this fall. A corps separates senior military colleges from other ROTC programs across the country, according to Neikirk.
The Corps is modeled after an Army brigade, with a brigade headquarters and two battalions. Each battalion consists of platoons, companies and squads.
Cadets live together in three military residence halls with suite-style living spaces, and for the most part, cadets learn from and lead each other.
“We are a corps that lets cadets supervise, train and do their job,” Neikirk said. “We are probably the least supervised corps of the six military colleges.”
Neikirk called the Corps a “leadership laboratory.” Cadets are taught to emulate Army values, including loyalty, duty, respect, service, honor, integrity and courage, and they teach the same to the cadets younger than them.
“You help and guide other people, and train other people with the same tasks and responsibilities you had the year prior,” Gleason said. “So you’re always training the freshmen to be sophomores, the sophomores to be juniors, the juniors to be seniors.”
An average day for a cadet includes first call at 6:45 a.m., followed by an hour of physical training at 7 a.m. four days a week, 30 minutes of “personal hygiene” and 30 minutes for breakfast at 8:30 a.m.
Cadets are then free to manage their class time between 9 a.m. and dinner at 6 p.m., followed by mandatory study hall in the evenings.
The structured study time benefited cadets last year. Neikirk said 62 cadets finished the spring semester with a 4.0 grade-point average; the current average GPA is a 3.12.
Gleason said such structure wasn’t originally part of his plan, but it’s benefited him. The senior has a 3.96 grade-point average and is on a Georgia Military Scholarship.
“To be totally honest, I didn’t want to go to college,” Gleason said. “Obviously, it worked out very well for me.”
Gleason graduates in May and hopes to become an aviation officer with the Georgia National Guard. He is already a cadet intern in the Georgia National Guard, serving as a squad observer, trainer and mentor for the Military Science III Leader Development Program.
His ranking is the second year in a row a UNG cadet has been ranked in the top 10 in the nation. Last year, then-Cadet Jonathan Chase Strickland was ranked No. 1 in the nation.
Additionally, three alumni of the Corps will be inducted into the Georgia Military Veterans Hall of Fame this November. U.S. Army retired Col. Gerald Lord of Dahlonega will be inducted for service, U.S. Army retired Col. Robert Powell of Carrollton will be inducted for valor, and U.S. Army retired Maj. Gen. Edison Earl Scholes of McCaysville will also be inducted for valor.
Neikirk said the Corps provides a supportive structure and leadership skills for all its cadets, even those who don’t commission.
“These young men and women are very prepared, no matter what they go into in life,” he said. “No matter what they pursue, they’re going to be very well-trained here.”
Neikirk said the quality of cadets produced by the Corps is a credit to the program’s leadership, the university, the organizations and parents who support it, and to the cadets themselves.
“Life is good in the Corps of Cadets at the University of North Georgia,” he said.