Family, friends and other military dignitaries, including Lt. Col. Danielle K. Rodondi, Brig. Gen. Reginald G.A. Neal, Capt. Peter Ahching and Master Sgt. Travis A. Logan, witnessed as 14 officers were commissioned as second lieutenants.
Neal, a 1987 graduate of the Academy of Richmond County who was recently inducted into the school’s hall of fame, said he was encouraged by what he saw in this year’s cadets.
“You hear a lot of information about millennials and how they aren’t doing this and they aren’t doing that. And I see this group here and it gives me faith in the future,” said Neal, who was this year’s guest speaker. “Today was a perfect example of previous generations — fathers, grandfathers, aunts and uncles — and then the current generation getting commissioned, on their way to serve.
“But more importantly, you see a lot of children and young people here that were able to witness this program and hopefully it will inspire them.”
Augusta University President Dr. Brooks Keel spoke, first mentioning to those in attendance how much their love and support had helped the graduating cadets through their time in the program.
“The chaplain reminded us before that these are the sons and daughters of America, but I also know that these are the sons and daughters of so many of you in this audience,” Keel said. “I know full well, as do they, that they would not be sitting here if not for the love and support of every single one of you.”
He then turned his attention to the cadets.
“Let me just tell you how incredibly proud we are. Let me tell you how grateful we are that you are about to take this oath that will put you in a position of protecting this country and protecting all of us. It means a great deal to all of us,” Keel said.
After taking the Oath of Commissioned Officers, the newly minted cadets had family and friends participate in the pinning ceremony before their first salute. The salute was especially emotional for 2nd Lt. Britny Gaudio, as her father, United States Army 1st Sgt. (P) Jonah Cali did the honors. The two shared a long embrace afterward.
“He raised me. He always pushed me to not only be a good leader but be a good person,” Gaudio said as tears ran down her cheeks. “He instilled in me everything that I have today. All of my morals, everything that I do, I think, ‘Would my dad be proud of me?’ with every decision that I make. He has helped me a lot growing up and throughout this whole program. He’s given me a lot of advice and I’m definitely going to carry that with me through my whole career.”
Early in his collegiate career, 2nd Lt. Samuel Powell played basketball but said he was looking for something else to challenge him.
“It’s been fun, it’s been interesting but it’s definitely been a learning experience,” he said.
Powell said joining ROTC was a little bit of a culture shock at first but it provided the challenges he was looking for, whether in the field or in the classroom.
“Camp wasn’t easy because you’re awake a lot of the time, for like 20 days straight almost, in the field getting rained on,” Powell said. “It’s not ideal but it’s still mentally and physically challenging. There have been times where I’ve been working on something for ROTC straight to working on stuff for school and not have a lot of time to do anything. It was difficult, but it was also a good experience.”
His parents, Garner Powell and Sherry Becklund, were taken aback at his decision to enlist but are definitely proud.
“He thought it through and all of the questions that I had, he had answers for,” Garner Powell said. “He had a plan in mind, which was impressive because I appreciated that.”
“It’s a great accomplishment for him,” he added. “He has showed maturity and drive. I think it’s good.”
He had already signed up when his mother found out. At first, “I was scared, as a mom; that’s my baby, my little boy,” said Beckland.
“For me, it’s more that I’m proud because it’s something that I never thought he’d pursue,” she said. “His grandfathers were in the military, we were not, and for him to make a decision to serve and, he said he wants to serve for life, makes us tremendously proud.”
They both were honored to take part in the pinning ceremony.
“The sons and daughters quote means a lot to me that he serves, but he’s my hero,” Becklund said.