Under the leadership of U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Oliver T. Walton, FVSU’s Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) program has emerged as a national powerhouse. This academic year, the Wildcat Battalion, which also includes cadets from Albany State University, won the state Ranger Challenge championship, designed to challenge cadets’ mental and physical toughness while developing leadership and teamwork. The challenge involves land navigation, rifle marksmanship, a grenade assault obstacle course, M-16 assembly, two minutes of pushups, two minutes of sit-ups, and a two mile run. The Wildcat Battalion team beat teams from the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech, Georgia Southern, Columbus State, and Augusta University. Among HBCUs, Wildcat Battalion’s 22 cadets are the most in the nation.
Walton is preparing to transition from his role as the leader of the ROTC program at FVSU, which will formally occur during this Saturday’s commencement. Taheerah Hanson, a student in FVSU’s Wildfire student public relations firm, interviewed Lt. Col. Walton as he reflected on his tenure and record of success.
Wildfire: Please share your most memorable experience while serving at Fort Valley State University.
Walton: My entire time at FVSU has been a blast. My fondest memories will be my interactions with the peeps of The Valley. My lunches at the Georgia Room probably sum it up best. Beyond the great-tasting food, the GA Room is a place where professional and unpretentious thought leaders enjoy each other’s company. I will always remember how welcomed I felt. A special shout out to Gwen and Marie from the Georgia Room staff!
Wildfire: As Lieutenant Colonel, take us through your daily duties at Fort Valley State University.
Walton: I am employed by the US Army, assigned to lead the Wildcat ROTC Program (which includes Albany State University ROTC). My charge is to recruit, retain, leader develop, and ultimately commission cadets into the Army. So, my daily duties are broad and not always at FVSU. Some days, I provide classroom instruction to senior cadets at FVSU and/or ASU. Other days, I am encouraging high school students to attend college and try ROTC, or I am at Fort Knox, KY or Fort Benning, GA or the Marine Corps Logistics Base in Albany, GA coordinating and conducting hands-on training.
Wildfire: What achievements have the Wildcat Battalion obtained during your service?
Walton: Our team of excellent cadre, staff, and cadets have accomplished a lot during my three-year tenure. The two achievements I am most proud of were realized this academic year. 1) Our Ranger Challenge Team won its first-ever Ranger Challenge State Championships by defeating teams from UGA, GT, Ga Southern, Ga State, Columbus State, and Augusta University in a military skills competition that included land navigation, physical fitness, first aid, and rifle marksmanship. 2) In three years, we went from a ROTC Program labeled “Viability Challenged” due to low commissioning numbers to 22 Class of 2018 Cadets- the largest in the Nation among HBCUs.
Wildfire: How many students were contracted under your leadership at Fort Valley State University?
Walton: We contracted 66 cadets and awarded over $1.8 million in scholarships and stipends.
Wildfire: Do you keep in touch with former students?
Walton: Yes, with pleasure. The vast majority of our ROTC alumni are first-generation Army officers. We go out of our way to provide them a reach-back capability to discuss current successes and challenges with folks they know who have been there and done that. I am excited whenever I hear from a former student.
Wildfire: What does leadership and excellence mean to the Wildcat Battalion?
Walton: Leadership in the Wildcat Battalion is all about the process of influencing others to accomplish a common goal or mission. Paramount to the process is earning the trust of those you lead by demonstrating high character and competence. Excellence is about striving for the highest standard opposed to the minimum standard. We want our cadets committed to excellence in everything they do. I use the acronym HEAR (Habits, Expectations, Attitude, Results): good Habits with high Expectations and positive Attitudes lead to excellent Results.
Wildfire: Among the other collegiate ROTC programs in Georgia, what makes the Wildcat Battalion distinctive/unique?
Walton: The FVSU ROTC Program is the only program hosted at an HBCU and the only program that is 100% HBCU in Georgia.
Wildfire: What are your views on recent political events, do you think that it has affected enlistment in any way?
Walton: I am not an authority on Army enlistment numbers but I can say recent political events have not affected ROTC enrollment at FVSU or ASU. As an Army Officer, I find it best to remain apolitical. My oath is to defend the United States Constitution, not a politician or political party/agenda. The Army has been a great way of life for me and my family since enlisting in 1985 when I served under the first of my six Commanders in Chief, President Ronald Reagan. The Lord is my Shepherd!
Wildfire: This is your final FVSU commissioning ceremony. How special is this for you and what’s next?
Walton: All my commissioning ceremonies at FVSU have been special. The time and attention FVSU provides our commissioning ceremony within the larger commencement ceremony is remarkable. How people question African American and HBCU reverence for the military is beyond me. That being said, I must admit this commissioning ceremony is more special than the others for me. I began my tenure with these cadets and I contracted all of them. I witnessed their maturation and can’t wait to see them thrive as second lieutenants. My next stop is Fort Benning, GA where I will return to my core area of concentration, hospital administration.
Wildfire: Is there anything else you would like to say to your fellow Wildcat Family?
Walton: Yes, I would like to say a lot more but I will try to constrain myself. I have had many remarkable assignments during my 32-year Army career and this assignment has been my best. Your Fort Valley State University is one to be proud of. I will always bleed the orange and green of my alma mater (Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University) but the blue and gold has earned a special place in my heart forever.
Lead From The Front, Excellence Always!
Main image caption: (l to r) LTC. Oliver Walton, student cadet Shikesha Thornton, and FVSU President Paul Jones, Ph.D.