(PHOTO: Rachel Rodemann Putman)

FORT SMITH – Of more than a thousand students who earned degrees and certificates as part of the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith class of 2019, just two earned the honor of being commissioned as second lieutenants into the Arkansas Army National Guard, in addition to their degrees.

UAFS graduates Jonathan Jones and Zachary Ray were commissioned Thursday afternoon in the Latture Conference Center on the UAFS campus. The commissioning and celebration that followed represent a culmination of the Reserve Officers’ Training Program (ROTC) at UAFS.

Jonathan Jones earned a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration. He is currently assigned to Charlie Battery 2-142 Field Artillery, Arkansas National Guard, and was commissioned as a Field Artillery Officer.

Zachary Ray earned a bachelor’s degree in Mathematics.  He is assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company (HHC) 1-114 Signal Company, Arkansas National Guard, and was commissioned as a Signal Officer.

Captain Deshon Sims imparted guiding advice to the new officers, imploring them to, “Go to your unit and see the impact you can make on that unit. Go to your senior CO, your platoon sergeant, and learn. Learn, and continue to learn. Make decisions slowly but effectively. And, above all, if your commander comes to you and you don’t have the answer – don’t be afraid to say ‘I don’t have the answer, but I’ll find it.’”

Retired U.S. Navy Commander John Roger Rickard of Alma then presented the newly commissioned officers with certificates of achievement and gold bars from the Military Officers Association of America, General William O. Darby chapter.

“I know what it takes to get to this point, and I want to applaud you for that. Our organization wants to applaud you for that ambition. You’ve taken this step forward. You’ve put in a lot more work, effort, diligence and sacrifice to get where you’re at and I commend you,” said Rickard. “You’re going to be leaders. You are leaders. And we desperately need great leaders at the helm of our country. So, we want to credit you and recognize you for a job well done.”

Jones and Ray took their state and federal oaths of office during the May 9 ceremony and recited their federal oaths of office during the university’s commencement ceremony May 11.

Sims congratulated the officers on taking the next step in their journey, and extended his thanks and congratulations to their families as well.

“It’s been two and a half years I started,” said Jones, “Major Jason Hogue paved the way for me to be successful, and then Captain Andrew Pang and Captain Deshon Sims got me over the loop. It’s been a great pleasure and I’m looking forward to what the future has for me as an officer.”

“I’ve experienced a few different types of leadership and learned from each and every one,” said Ray. “I’m grateful for all the leaders I’ve had, and I look forward to continual learning in my career.”

ROTC is a program through the U.S. Army that allows university students to take elective leadership classes in the hopes of transitioning to officer positions with the armed forces following graduation. The commissioning ceremony signifies such a transition. The ROTC program began at UAFS in 2008.

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