New leader of Norwich’s Corps of Cadets follows in his grandfather’s footsteps

New Cadet Colonel Ethan Hagstrom is taking the same post his grandfather held back in 1960

Ethan Hagstrom never thought he would find himself at a school such as Norwich, let alone a military school.

In fact, the 21-year-old communications major from Bedford, N.H., didn’t even consider Norwich one of his top five choices when applying.

“Norwich was the 10th school on my list,” he said. “It was the last one I added, and the last one I visited.
Hagstrom, a legacy student, only applied due to his family heritage with Norwich. “My grandfather was the cadet colonel in 1960,” Hagstrom said, adding he also had relatives who attended all the way back to 1912.

Fair to say then, that his life changed as soon as he stepped foot in Kreitzberg Arena in August of 2015 as a freshman. Now he is following in the footsteps of his grandfather, and carrying on a family legacy that started over 100 years ago.

On Feb. 8, Cadet Master Sgt. Ethan Hagstrom learned that he had been selected to serve as the cadet colonel, the highest rank in Norwich University’s Corps of Cadets, for the 2019-20 academic year.

“I thought it was going to be anybody else but me,” he said. “But my grandfather was colonel and encouraged me to go for it. He told me ‘you won’t know until you try.’ ”

According to Col. Michael Titus, Norwich University’s commandant of cadets, the selection process was competitive.

“They gave us seven people to choose from,” Titus said. “It was not easy, and is never easy, any of those cadets would have made excellent colonels, but we had to narrow it down to four choices to submit to the president.”

Titus explained that candidates start by submitting a packet containing a cover letter, resume, and any other pertinent documents that would help a board better evaluate candidates and qualify them to participate. Once this is done, candidates participate in formal promotion boards where they are asked various questions pertaining to anything from cultural change to rules and regulations that ultimately illustrate their potential performance as colonel to the board members.

Finalists from the boards then interview with Brig. Gen. Vanacek and Col. Titus, who reduce the applicant pool to the top three or four cadets.
The board then submits the finalist names and packets to President Richard Schneider for final selection. After each candidate interviews with the president, he then informs Col. Titus of his highest recommendation.

“I get to choose who the regimental commander is every year, and it’s a great responsibility,” Schneider said. “I take it very seriously.”
This year, the four finalists for the position were juniors Hagstrom, Emma Bunker, Andrew Harris, and Kurt Slichenmyer. “For both years I’ve been here, I’ve been able to say I am comfortable with any of the four candidates being regimental commander,” Titus said. “I hate to make his job harder, but I really felt that we could work with any one of them.”
Schneider said every year the applicants are more and more qualified due to a rise in quality of cadets.
“We have done such a better job at preparing them for leadership,” Schneider said. “I would stack our entire student body against any other college president’s student body, and I know we would outperform them in all categories.”
Schneider praised this year’s candidates but said Hagstrom stuck out from the others.
“Ethan had the most comprehensive perspective,” Schneider said. “I have great confidence in him that he’s going to do a fabulous job.”

“My grandfather really got as much out of it as he could before he commissioned and went to Germany,” Hagstrom said. “For me, his legacy is a constant reminder that someone has been here before me and someone has done everything I will be doing.”

Schneider has maintained an open door policy with every regimental commander since 1992, his first year as university president. “I’m looking forward to working with Ethan,” he said. “The biggest thing I would ask him is ‘what issues are you going to tackle, and how are you going to tackle them?’, and that’s of course something I’m willing to work with and coach him through.”

“I expect Ethan to be leading effectively,” Schneider said.

For Hagstrom, his family ties link him to Norwich in a personal way. Hagstrom’s grandfather, James Bingham, served as the cadet colonel in 1960, was involved with four years of drill team and the mountain cold weather specialty unit, as well as two years of tank platoon.

“My grandfather really got as much out of it as he could before he commissioned and went to Germany,” Hagstrom said. “For me, his legacy is a constant reminder that someone has been here before me and someone has done everything I will be doing.”

While he seeks to uphold the traditional values of Norwich, Hagstrom also plans on planting the seeds for his own vision for the corps moving forward. For now, he knows he has to first learn the ropes of the job, according to Cadet Col. Morgan Woods, this year’s regimental commander.
Woods said the first thing she did after winning the post was consult with her predecessor about what the job entails and what things she needed to know.

According to Woods, this step is critical to a smooth transition into command. “Tim Weinhold, who was the regimental commander at the time, gave me advice on the job and coaching on some of the biggest challenges I would face,” she said. “I did a lot of shadowing and lunch meetings the spring semester before taking command.”

Hagstrom’s experience working for the corps as a public affairs officer or PAO, gives him a more comprehensive understanding of how the corps functions on all levels.

“Hagstrom is from the staff side of the table,” Woods said. “As PAO, he has gotten a really good perspective, because PAO covers all of the events in the corps, that means he has literally seen it all.”

Learning how to effectively delegate is perhaps one of the biggest things Hagstrom will have to learn how to do moving forward, she added.
Woods and Hagstrom have already met to begin the transition process for next year, and Hagstrom will also be working closely with the commandant’s staff to begin to plan how to implement both their and his vision.
What does Hagstrom want to focus on? He has several ideas.

“One of the things I want to see is a rejuvenation of effort among classes other than just freshmen,” said Hagstrom, who feels there has been a drastic drop-off in standards following rook recognition that has been plaguing the corps for years.

“We’ve definitely seen a lot of issues occurring,” Hagstrom said. “People are just getting too complacent and too relaxed.
Hagstrom said the key is to get people more involved. “They always say that the idle mind is the devil’s workshop,” he said. “So I think too many people at the school have too much time on their hands. There’s so many community service needs that aren’t met and there are jobs that can be filled around campus.”

“There are so many things that could be done to contribute to campus climate that aren’t because people don’t want to get out of their rooms,” he said. “Next year we are really going to push campus involvement.”

He will also be looking to explore different ways to build trust between administration and students.

“Commandants are often seen as the opposing force,” he said, explaining that this stems largely from a resistance to change. He hopes to change that view. “I think commandants should be seen more as advisors,” he said. “They’re all prior military, they have years of military experience, they’ve got stories, they’ve got examples that apply to what’s going on around campus, and I just don’t think that’s being recognized and taken advantage of.”

Hagstrom also thinks the Corps of Cadets needs to work more with civilians, an occurrence in the real military that should not be overlooked or neglected.

“They are a part of the school, so we shouldn’t treat them like they’re not,” Hagstrom said, explaining the value civilians have to bring to the corps. “A lot of the civilians are the ones who are doing all of the cool stuff like cybersecurity for Super Bowl games and volunteering; they have so much going on for themselves and it would be a discredit to the Corps to not find a way to incorporate them into what we do.”

According to Hagstrom, many corps students fall short of what they should be doing to prepare for life after the military.

“Most people in the corps think that because they have a scholarship, they don’t have to worry about internships or jobs because they have their stipend,” Hagstrom said. “People in the military or going into the military really should be thinking about what they are going to do when they get out.”

Hagstrom’s vision also aims at school culture.

“Everyone always says we have to change the culture,” Hagstrom said. “But it’s not a revolutionary change that happens overnight, it’s actually evolutionary, and takes place in small increments over time.”

Leadership by example is a primary way he hopes to ignite that cultural change.

“I think one of the most important things is putting people in leadership positions that are going to lead by example,” he said. “My first sergeant during my freshman year had an open door policy, his door was always open, his rack was always made, and his room was always strapped, and that left a big impression on me.”

Hagstrom is looking forward to next year and what’s to come.

“It’s going to be cool to be the cadet colonel during the bicentennial,” he said. “That is something I am really excited about, and I can’t wait to see what next year has in store.”

Cadet Command Sergeant Major Kurt Slichenmyer, 22, a junior physics major from Sherborn, Mass., was one of the finalists for the cadet colonel position. He also did not expect to make it to the final round.

“I never really saw myself ever applying for cadet colonel,” he said. “I’m surprised I made it that far,” he said.
Slichenmyer was chosen instead for battalion commander position and hopes to bring positive changes to the Corps.

“One of the biggest things I want to focus on is upperclassmen,” he said. “We need to get the upperclassmen companies working with the cadet training companies, so they can train and develop together.”

According to Slichenmyer, the biggest mistake the school ever made was splitting up companies and segregating rooks from their upperclassmen counterparts.

“The key to buy-in is having meaning,” Slichenmyer said. “That meaning was lost when the segregation started. We need to make the corps less rook focused and more holistically focused.”

Slichenmyer is confident in Hagstrom’s ability to ignite positive change in the corps.

“I am kind of bummed I didn’t get the job,” he said. “But I know Hagstrom will do a great job and will bring great credit upon the university, I am really looking forward to what next year has in store.”

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