When Cadet Andrew Currie coined Charlie Company’s motto, “Rock Solid,” in the fall of 2006, he probably had no idea it would be used by such a large and successful group. This is the improbable story of how five cadets helped bring Army ROTC to Maranatha.
The idea of Charlie Company was formed early in 2006. Accounting Management major Paul Shirk was completing his sophomore year at Maranatha. He had decided to transfer to UW-Madison to finish his undergraduate education. His primary reason for leaving Maranatha was that it did not have Army ROTC. Shirk discussed the possibility of a transfer with then-Captain Kirk Mensch, a Maranatha business faculty member. Mensch suggested an alternative similar to one he had observed at the College of William & Mary, speculating that Badger Battalion might be receptive to the idea of a satellite ROTC program at a smaller school.
There were significant hurdles. First, the Badger Battalion would have to agree to accept, fund, and support a program at a comparatively tiny school nearly an hour away. Second, Maranatha would have to accept the program and begin offering academic credit for ROTC classes. Third, Maranatha would have to provide quality Cadets to the program.
Mensch scheduled an informational meeting for any interested students to gauge interest. About 15 people attended, including Shirk’s friend, Matthew Evon. Mensch had already found another interested student: Philip Seaman, the starting fullback for Maranatha’s football team.
Lieutenant Colonel John Bechtol, then Professor of Military Science and Badger Battalion Commander, was an enthusiastic proponent of the idea. Bechtol sent Major Rio Ripberger and Captain Andrew Koshnik to Watertown to see if there was sufficient interest to support an ROTC program. Ripberger and Koshnik found an administration receptive to the idea. Shirk was ready to contract as a Cadet and several other students were interested. Bechtol began the necessary steps to start the program.
He first met with the Maranatha faculty to detail how the school could comply with the Army’s stringent educational requirements. Bechtol was able to convince even the most skeptical professors to accept the program by demonstrating its potential benefits.
Shirk contracted on June 2, 2006. Badger Battalion agreed to send Shirk and Evon to the Leader’s Training Course (LTC) at Ft. Knox, KY, that summer. Neither cadet had even put on a uniform when they arrived, but both earned high marks. The Army granted scholarships to Evon and Shirk upon their return from LTC, and Seaman and Currie both joined the National Guard and became Simultaneous Membership Program (SMP) cadets. The new Corps of Cadets had grown to four.
The 2006-2007 school year brought new challenges for Charlie Company. Because no MS IV cadets were on campus to act as instructors, Charlie Company’s cadets traveled to UW-Whitewater (Bravo Company) for labs every Thursday and occasionally invited Madison MS IVs to teach a lab in Watertown. The cadets conducted classes and physical training at Maranatha, but had no permanent campus location and only one part-time instructor, Sergeant Jeffery Smith.
Charlie Company came into its own in the fall of 2007. Then-Captain Derrek Schultheiss became a full-time Assistant Professor of Military Science at Maranatha, Shirk became the Detachment Commander, and the College, through coordination with Major Rene Concordia, gave the program a permanent building. With a single LDAC-qualified MS IV to conduct labs, Charlie Company began running a truly self-contained program. The MS IV staff for the 2007-2008 academic year was Currie, Evon, Seaman, Shirk, and Joseph Diener. This core group of leaders, aided by Schultheiss’ skill and expertise, molded Charlie Company for the future generations of Cadets.
Charlie Company grew to 22 cadets by fall 2007 and began several new programs. Shirk organized and led the Company’s first Ranger Challenge team. Several cadets, organized by Evon, competed for the German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge. Charlie Company fielded its first ever color guard, also captained by Evon. Seaman created the physical fitness program that produced the highest average PT scores in the battalion, a tradition Charlie Company continues today.
Charlie Company grew to 22 cadets by fall 2007 and began several new programs. Shirk organized and led the Company’s first Ranger Challenge team. Several cadets, organized by Evon, competed for the German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge. Charlie Company fielded its first ever color guard, also captained by Evon. Seaman created the physical fitness program that produced the highest average PT scores in the Battalion, a tradition Charlie Company continues today.
Charlie Company came full circle on May 18, 2008, when Shirk became the first-ever commissioned officer to graduate from the program. He also earned the Sterling Award, the highest honor for a Battalion senior. Later that year, Second Lieutenants Seaman and Diener were commissioned at the end of LDAC; Evon and Currie followed in May of 2009.
The program has grown to over 40 Cadets strong in the fall of 2013. It has seen three first-place and one second-place victory at the Ranger Challenge competition at Fort McCoy. The color guard has made numerous appearances, one at the swearing-in ceremony for State Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman. When Schultheiss was promoted to Major and deployed to Iraq, Charlie Company cadets enjoyed the technical and tactical expertise and experience of Major Scott Nos and Sergeant Richard Carlson. Carlson was the first Non-Commissioned Officer to assist full-time at Maranatha.
The very first group of freshmen Cadets has already graduated and received their commissions. Keith Kraker ranked in the top 1 percent of the National Order of Merit List and received the Battalion Sterling Award. All three cadets who went to camp from that group earned their Recondo Badge, a feat never accomplished within the Battalion before or since. In the spring of 2013, the Army and Air Force Cadets at Maranatha College had their very first joint commissioning ceremony.
The program has also started a new chapter with the addition of a new full time cadre member, SFC Charles Benintende. SFC Benintende brings a wealth of knowledge to the program, along with a passion to teach and mentor the Army’s future leaders. He is heavily involved in the ROTC program, as well as Maranatha’s football program.
The program grows and improves every year, but it was the first cadets and cadre—men who worked hard and believed in ROTC at Maranatha —who made it all possible.