Just before RIT’s traditional graduation ceremony, a smaller group of RIT students will make a big commitment to themselves and to their country.
Adam Podolec is among a handful of graduates who will participate in RIT’s commencement pomp and circumstance. But earlier in the day, even before the bagpipes lead students into the Gordon Field House, he’ll be sworn in as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Army during the annual Reserve Officers’ Training Corps commissioning ceremony.
Podolec began as a cadet in RIT’s Tiger Battalion five years ago and moved through the ranks of trainee to leader. Shortly after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering, he will become a member of a National Guard unit in Concord, N.H.
Before that, though, Podolec has to be sworn in to service.
A military commissioning ceremony is about recognizing past training in both the classroom and in the field. It is also a launching point for cadets into service, likely far away from home. His commanding officer Lt. Col. Edward Whitaker will administer the oath that all graduates must take, where Podolec will swear, “to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same. And that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office upon which I am about to enter.”
“Adam epitomizes the benevolent Army officer. Soon-to-be Second Lieutenant Podolec is a quiet professional whose maturity and leadership far exceeds his peers. Adam will make an outstanding officer,” Whitaker said.
The first salute as a new officer is significant, tied to traditions in the Army that date back to the Civil War.
“My grandfather was a medic in Korea,” Podolec said. “After your oath, you do your first salute to a non-commissioned officer, so I will have my grandfather here for that. And it is also tradition for you to hand that person a silver dollar.”
The tradition of giving a silver dollar is a way to acknowledge the new rank and responsibility, and also is said to symbolize the important mentoring relationship between new officers and experienced non-commissioned officers. This will be familiar to Podolec who worked his way through the basic to more advanced cadet ranks while at RIT, and as he gained experience he was given more responsibility and been involved in guiding new cadets entering the program.
“Going into the military was something I had an interest in,” said Podolec, who grew up in Cambridge, N.Y. “I got a letter from West Point and did this summer camp there my junior year in high school. I liked it, the mentality, people who work really hard. I just wanted to be a part of that.”
He had applied to West Point, but although he did not get accepted he learned about ROTC, applied to different university programs and received a scholarship for the Tiger Battalion.
All ROTC students take military science classes in addition to traditional academic courses. Podolec pursued electrical engineering and was part of an ankle-foot orthotic senior design project team on a technical solution that addresses a person’s inability to properly flex the foot caused by a number of neurological conditions or physical injury. He is currently working with Rochester’s Al Sigl Center and its medical staff to learn more about the specific needs of clients with disabilities and what technological solutions might be developed by the staff and RIT student-engineers to support these individuals. Completing this final co-op will close his time at RIT.
After graduation, ROTC graduates can take one of three different routes to service: Active Duty, National Guard or Reserves.
“I have a very technical degree that has kind of an expiration date on it because technology moves so fast. I really want to use that degree that I worked for, but also be a part of the military,” he said. “I’m committed to a National Guard base in Concord, N.H., where I’m going to be a medevac Black Hawk pilot. I just found that out not too long ago, so I am super excited.”
He will be moving to New Hampshire after graduation. He has several more years of training ahead, specifically flight school and the Army’s medical officers basic leadership course. Afterward is flight certification.
“I am ready for this. Everything about a month ago was up in the air… I didn’t know the results of my flight board, I didn’t know if I was going to be able to fly but I had a plan and worked toward it,” he said. “Those helicopters that fly over the campus from time to time? That’s going to be me one day!”