22 ROTC cadets to be commissioned at ceremony May 12

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May 2, 2018

Vande Hei

SJU graduate and NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei.

Lt. Col. Tom Sachariason figures to have some bittersweet memories come May 12.

Sweet, because the ROTC Commissioning Ceremony features a speech from SJU graduate and NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei, who will be in Collegeville for the first time since returning to Earth Feb. 28 from a 5½-month stay aboard the International Space Station.

Sweeter, because Sachariason will see 22 ROTC cadets from the Fighting Saints Battalion — made up of students from the College of Saint Benedict, Saint John’s University and St. Cloud State University — receive their commissions in the Army.

But the ceremony at 6 p.m. Saturday, May 12, at the Stephen B. Humphrey Theater at SJU figures to be a little sad for Sachariason.

This will be his final commissioning ceremony as he retires from active duty.

“It will (be bittersweet). It has been about 30 years in uniform now. It’s time to move on,” said Sachariason, who has led the Fighting Saints Battalion for two years.

But any sadness is replaced by seeing the cadets commissioned as a second lieutenants in the Army.

“It’s great to see the cadets progress and achieve their goal,” Sachariason said. “It’s great to see them and their family go through this ceremony.”

The ceremony consists of two parts. First, the cadets take an oath of office.

“I actually have to sign a document saying they have taken their oath of office,” Sachariason said. “The neat part about that is that the individual that’s being commissioned has the flexibility to ask somebody to conduct that, to actually be the one that reads them their oath.”

There’s one stipulation. “It has to be a commissioned officer – a family member who is an officer, or a friend, a former cadre member or a current cadre member,” Sachariason said.

Then, family members join the cadet on stage and assist them with the pinning of their second lieutenant shoulder boards.

“That’s usually somewhat relaxed, where (the cadet) is allowed to have family members come up on stage and assist with that,” Sachariason said.

Vande Hei, a 1989 graduate of SJU, has tentatively titled his speech, “We Are Counting on You.” He was part of Expedition 53/54 aboard the International Space Station. While at Saint John’s, he was an ROTC cadet and went through the commissioning ceremony.

“An important moment for me was my first salute as a brand new second lieutenant to Sgt. Maj. (Dale) Pulkrabek,” Vande Hei said via email. “He was the senior enlisted member of the ROTC training detachment at Saint John’s, a former member of Delta Force and someone I crossed paths with years later in Baghdad where he was helping train the Iraqi Army.”  

The event is open to the public.

“I’ll be leaving, so it will add a little bit of drama for me,” Sachariason said. “But it’s a great ceremony. Anybody that has the opportunity to come and see it, they’ll really enjoy it. There’s a lot of history, and also some of the best students that are graduating this year will also be commissioned and go into the Army.”