The secretary of the U.S. Army was on the Texas A&M campus Friday to commission 49 A&M graduates as Army second lieutenants, part of a day in which 126 Corps of Cadets members were commissioned as officers in various branches of the military. The new officers were recognized at the 2 p.m. graduation ceremony at Reed Arena and received their diplomas.
Army Secretary Mark T. Esper visited with the new Army officers and their families before delivering remarks in front of more than 400 people inside Rudder Auditorium at noon, two hours before the larger commissioning.
“Starting today, you will begin to take on your most important responsibility: leadership,” Esper said as the Army officers-to-be sat to his right on the stage.
“Texas A&M University has been producing Army leaders since the school was first established in 1876,” Esper said. “And very soon, you will step in front of a formation of your soldiers for the first time. It will be both an inspiring and a nerve-wracking experience — and one that you must be ready for.”
Commandant Brig. Gen. Joe Ramirez said it was a high honor for the university and the university system to host Esper and other high-ranking military officials, including the Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, Gen. Robert B. Neller.
“It shows what the Department of Defense thinks of Texas A&M,” Ramirez said just before the commission of Esper’s visit. “It shows what DoD thinks of our Corps, of our ROTC programs and the quality of the young men and women that we put into the U.S. military from Texas A&M.”
Ramirez said that it is “a source of pride for all of us” that Texas A&M produces more officers than any school outside of the country’s military academies.
The 126 cadets filed into Reed Arena and then stood at attention in three long rows. The seconds stretched on, crowd and cadets silent and still, before Ramirez gave the “parade rest” order.
Before he administered the oath to defend the Constitution to the future officers, Ramirez first asked their family members to stand, followed by active military service members and then veterans.
“As they approach the point of taking their oath of office,” Ramirez said, “I ask: Who stands with them?”
One cadet and graduate, Ben Gaudsmith of Plano, is now a second lieutenant in the Texas Army National Guard. His father, Ret. Col. Rob Gaudsmith, and his mother, JoAnna Gaudsmith, met while at A&M.
“It means a lot to have the privilege of going into my family’s tradition,” Ben Gaudsmith said following the commissioning ceremony. “Not just my father, but my grandfathers and my uncle. It’s a unique opportunity to be part of that ongoing line.”
“I got commissioned here, so to be able to be part of this day for him is just incredible. It’s a great honor,” said Rob Gaudsmith, who was also part of the Texas Army National Guard.
“I got to pin my husband’s second lieutenant bars on him, I got to pin [Ben] — it’s really a family tradition I’m glad that he was willing to continue,” JoAnna Gaudsmith said. I’m proud that he is willing to set forth and do what is needed. Our country needs him.”
Ben Gaudsmith said he studied economics while at A&M and that he will work this summer before beginning his duties at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, in September.
Rob Gaudsmith also described a “bittersweet pride” at watching his son be commissioned and take the oath of service. Ben’s older sister also graduated from A&M, he said, meaning that the ceremony marked an end of a phase of their lives as parents.
“We’re very lucky and feeling a lot of gratitude,” he said.
Another A&M graduate, Evan Dunn, will go to Vandenberg Air Force Base in California in a matter of weeks as a second lieutenant. He said he was a first-generation Aggie and the first in his family to serve in the military.
“It’s an honor to volunteer to serve the country, and to volunteer to put my life on the line so other people don’t have to,” Dunn said.