Rogers State University and the Oklahoma Army National Guard on May 9 re-affirmed their commitment to retaining the Guard Officer Leadership (GOLD) Program at the university.
The Oklahoma National Guard had announced closure of its officer programs at other Oklahoma schools, but RSU successfully lobbied to retain its program thanks to strong support from its Oklahoma Military Academy Alumni Association. Major General Robbie Asher, Oklahoma’s Adjutant General, signed the agreement along with RSU President Dr. Larry Rice during the event.
The Guard Officer Leadership Development (GOLD) program, which develops Soldiers into future commissioned officers, made its inaugural debut to the university in 2014, bringing boots back on the hill after more than 40 years. The program prepares Soldiers for Officer Candidate School (OCS) between their junior and senior year of college; that is, until budgetary constraints called for the program’s removal.
But this particular cut wasn’t a suitable option for the university or the Oklahoma Military Academy (OMA) Alumni Association, who worked with leaders from the Oklahoma National Guard and devised a plan to keep the program intact.
OMA, known as the “West Point of the Southwest,” was a military academy on the university’s campus from 1919 to 1971, where it trained more than 10,000 cadets. It was one of three honor schools in the nation that had the power to appoint cadets to service academies such as West Point, Annapolis and the United States Air Force Academy.
Members of the OMA Alumni Association want that prestigious reputation to remain.
“There’s a lot of history here,” said OMA Alumni Association President Phil Goldfarb. “We have a lot of support here and over 2,000 living OMA alumni.”
Rather than being funded by the Oklahoma National Guard, the university will donate part of housing and the OMA Alumni Association supplements the rest and provides scholarships.
“We are funding the instructor and going to have the training on campus for the MS (Military Science) I through IV-year cadets,” Goldfarb said. “So hopefully they [officer candidates] won’t have any monies to pay when they graduate.”
The Oklahoma Army National Guard, however, will provide a Guard instructor once a week to conduct a lab with the program’s officer candidates, where they will learn military tactics and fulfill their monthly drill requirement.
The continuation of the program was solidified with signatures on Monday by Dr. Rice and Maj. Gen. Robbie L. Asher, the adjutant general for Oklahoma, who during the ceremony shared his desire to initiate the GOLD program for Oklahoma in early 2000 because of officer shortages.
“This program allows us to grow future leaders in the Oklahoma National Guard and make up for an officer shortage,” Asher said. “It gets us back in the community, and the National Guard is part of the community.”
Originally, four universities in Oklahoma had the GOLD program until earlier this year. Now only one remains with both military science instruction and the lab, thanks to the OMA Alumni Association and university leaders. Southwestern Oklahoma State University in Weatherford, Oklahoma, will continue their program, but only for the weekly lab portion.
“Their [OMA Alumni Association] willingness to partner with us until we can get through this tough period shows a lot,” Asher said. “There’s a lot that this program has to offer based on their military tradition and the history.”
Rice, who also spoke at the ceremony, thanked everyone for their support and voiced his enthusiasm for the program.
“They add a lot of color to our campus when they’re in uniform,” Rice said as he beamed when speaking of the university. “We’re proud to have boots on the hill and to keep producing officers for the Guard.”
The Oklahoma National Guard, Rogers State University and OMA Alumni Association aren’t the only ones excited for the program’s continuation; the officer candidates are as well.
“It’s an excellent opportunity, especially for young National Guard college students,” said Spc. Logan Gear, of Olive, Oklahoma, an officer candidate in the GOLD program.
Upon graduation, Gear plans to help guide the program and help spread the word of its existence to future officer candidates.
According to Asher, the goal is to return a full-time Guardsman instructor back on campus and re-establish other GOLD programs once the federal budget improves.
1st Lt. Leanna Litsch, Oklahoma National Guard Office of Public Affairs, contributed to the story.