When Cadet Matthew Evon coined Charlie Company’s motto, “Rock Solid”, in the fall of 2006, he probably had no idea that it would be used by such a large and successful group of future Cadets. This is the improbable story of how five Cadets helped bring Army ROTC to Maranatha Baptist Bible College.
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 that he had to transfer to UW-Madison to finish his undergraduate education, primarily because Maranatha did not have an Army ROTC program. Shirk discussed this possibility of a transfer with Captain Kirk Mensch, a Maranatha business faculty member at the time.
Mensch suggested an alternative similar to one he had observed at the College of William & Mary, speculating that the 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 students 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 in the program. Bechtol began the necessary steps to start the program.
LTC Bechtol 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.
After the affiliate paperwork was signed, and the curriculum was put in place, Shirk became the first MBBC Cadet to contract into the new program 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 Phil Seaman and Andrew 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 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 First Class Jeffery Smith.
Charlie Company came into its own in the fall of 2007. Then Captain Derrek Schultheiss became the 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 Leadership Development and Assessment Course (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 a 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.
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 First Class Richard Carlson. Carlson was the first Non-Commissioned Officer to assist full-time at Maranatha, and helped the Cadets achieve their first “1st Place” Ranger Challenge victory.
The program has been blessed to have additional full time cadre members develop the program over the years. SFC Benintende has left a lasting legacy on the University with his larger than life personality and dedication to the ROTC and Athletic departments. He brought a wealth of knowledge to the program, along with a passion to teach and mentor the Army’s future leaders. He was heavily involved in the ROTC program, as well as Maranatha’s football program. CPT Jon Degreeff is our newest full time staff, and brings a high level of expertise, experience, and intellect to the program. He helped guide the 2016 Ranger Challenge team to yet another 1st Place victory.
At its peak, the program had grown to over 40 Cadets strong in the fall of 2013. To date, it has seen seven 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, and one for State Supreme Court Justice Daniel Kelly.
The very first group of freshmen Cadets have already long graduated and have been serving honorably in the Army. Keith Kraker ranked in the top 1 percent of the National Order of Merit List and received the Battalion Sterling Award (other MBU Cadets who received this honor have been Paul Shirk and Jared Domsic – Elisha Walters received a saber for being the Top Cadet in the Battalion). All three cadets who went to camp from that first freshman group earned their Recondo Badge, a feat never accomplished within the Battalion before or since.
Charlie Company has seen a lot of firsts in its history. In the spring of 2013, the Army and Air Force Cadets at Maranatha College had their very first joint commissioning ceremony. Rosa Lewis was the first female to commission from the program (she was also our first female Detachment Commander). Elijah Walters was our first Cadet to ever get branched Engineer (this branch is normally reserved for engineer majors). These are just a few of the significant “firsts” for Charlie Company.
The program continues to grow and improve every year, but it was the first Cadets and cadre—men and women who worked hard and believed in ROTC at Maranatha Baptist University—who made it all possible.