U.S. Army Reserve Brig. Gen. Robert S. Powell Jr. was honored by his alma mater Monday as the 17th graduate of Middle Tennessee State University’s Army ROTC in its 71-year history to reach General officer rank.
Powell was recognized with the unveiling of a commemorative brick in a special ceremony at the Veterans Memorial site outside the Tom H. Jackson Building. The outdoor event and others throughout the day followed COVID-19 safety protocols of wearing masks and social distancing.
Powell, a 1991 MTSU graduate with a degree in political science/international relations, is the deputy commanding general of the 335th Signal Command in East Point, Georgia, and the Army Reserve’s first cyber officer promoted to brigadier general.
Keith M. Huber, MTSU’s senior adviser for veterans and leadership initiatives, led the program, which also featured MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee, Lt. Col. Carrick McCarthy of the ROTC program and retired Col. Rickey Smith, president of the MTSU military science alumni chapter.
Huber, a retired lieutenant general who served almost four decades active duty in the U.S. Army, offered some words of advice from his 14 years spent at the rank of a general officer and the weighty responsibility that comes with it.
“You clearly are no longer capable of being invisible … but you’re at a level now where people cannot ignore you,” Huber said. “Where if you use your energy to serve others, and your influence to change things for the betterment of the sons and daughters of America who are wearing the cloth of the armed forces … if you dedicate yourself to that service, then being a General Officer is great.”
“This is very humbling,” Powell, a Bedford County (Wartrace), Tennessee, native said, speaking to a group that included wife Jill, who has communication disorders and special education degrees from MTSU and other family, friends, other MTSU officials, fellow generals David Ogg and Max Haston, ROTC cadets and others. “I never dreamed all these things would happen to me.
“When opportunities present themselves and you are going to be asked to do it, you just did it and moved on. You do it to further the mission and take care of people.”
“As the 17th alumnus of this great university to achieve the rank of general, he joins a distinguished list of heroes whom we are proud to call our own,” McPhee told the crowd gathered for the livestreamed event. “General Powell’s strong leadership exemplifies the high standards and ideals of MTSU’s Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program and its long history on our campus.”
McCarthy said the cadets and military science faculty “are honored to be a part of this,” welcoming Powell into the ROTC Hall of Fame “with other graduates of distinction” in Forrest Hall. “We have 19 cadets graduating this spring and summer. They stand ready to carry on in the tradition of these others who came before them.”
While on campus, he talked about his cybersecurity career with MTSU computer and data science students in the McWherter Learning Resources Center — an event moderated by data science director Charlie Apigian. He also toured the Charlie and Hazel Daniels Veterans and Military Family Center.
Powell fielded questions from students. His advice for them: “With this generation, I think they’ve got the solutions. I would like to encourage them to come and join us because they can help us do this. They’re bright. They’re really reaching out. They’re not afraid to ask hard questions. These are the kind of people we need on the team.”
Powell is highly decorated. His awards include the Bronze Star medal, Meritorious Service Medal (five Oak Leaf Clusters), Army Commendation Medal (two Oak Leaf Clusters), Army Achievement Medal (two Oak Leaf Clusters) and other honors.
A replay of the ceremony can be viewed on the MTSU Facebook page.
— Randy Weiler (Randy.Weiler@mtsu.edu)