Ferrum Alumni Prepared to Serve Proudly
“Each soldier is trained to adhere to a set of values that include loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage. Ferrum’s motto of ‘Not Self, But Others’ parallels those values and expectations,” says Jay Greeley ’02, director of financial operations for the DLA Strategic Materials organization. Greeley manages a staff of accountants and financial analysts at what is commonly referred to as the Defense National Stockpile. In addition to Greeley’s federal civilian service, he is also an officer in the United States Army Reserve, and like many service members, has been overseas multiple times in the past several years, most recently returning from a tour at the United States Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan.
This sentiment is echoed by Shelley Phillips Balderson ’85, chief of staff for the deputy commanding general, Army Reserve, at the Army Training and Doctrine Command. Balderson says this when speaking of how Ferrum College prepared her for military service: “The army prides itself on core values of leadership, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage. Ferrum provided me the foundation to live up to those values every day.” TRADOC, as the Army Training and Doctrine Command is called, is responsible for shaping the army in four areas: recruiting and training soldiers, developing civilian and soldier leaders, doctrine development, and integrating formations, capabilities, and material for the army. Currently, Balderson’s role is to ensure U.S. Army Reserve integration into every facet of this mission.
Similar to Balderson and Greeley, Sylvia Woodyard ’04, human resources assistant for Virginia Tech and Radford University ROTC programs, believes that Ferrum had an immeasurable impact on who she is and what she does today: “Ferrum cares and that in itself has molded me into who I am,” she says. As a human resource assistant, Woodyard ensures completion and processing of all types of paperwork associated with the cadets at Virginia Tech and Radford University. Lindsay Etherton ’12 is also a Ferrum College alumna in the United States military, currently serving in the Army Reserve. Just two weeks after completing her training in the Reserve, she was deployed, returning home for just 15 months before deploying again. One of the most recent Ferrum students to join the military, Caleb Thompson ’14, has chosen to enter the United States Coast Guard immediately after graduation in May. Says Thompson, “The leadership opportunities and training that I have received at Ferrum College will carry me very far within the coast guard.” While Thompson does not yet know what his duties will be or where he will be stationed, his enthusiasm for serving our country is limitless.
What led each of these men and women to Ferrum College is remarkable. For Greeley, it was the feeling that Ferrum was a place where he could focus on his future and gain independence from his family. Balderson decided Ferrum College was the right place for her while attending a Job’s Daughters Conference on the campus of Ferrum. She says she loved the campus immediately! Upon her graduation in 1985, Balderson became the first person in her family to earn a four-year degree—an accomplishment of which she is understandably quite proud.
Woodyard felt exactly the same way when she first visited the campus—she was hooked immediately. She remembers touring the campus with her father, seeing the theatre, and getting up on stage, proclaiming that she would be there giving a performance one day. “My heart was set on Ferrum and that is where I ended up,” she says. Thompson felt the small school atmosphere was the right place for him to earn a degree, saying, “The size and location made this college home for me. I love the fact that you can have a personal relationship with the faculty and staff, and that they sincerely care about you as a person.” While Etherton came to Ferrum focused on playing softball, her reaction to the campus and the people at Ferrum is much like that of Greeley, Balderson, Thompson, and Woodyard. “I loved the scenic views, the small campus, and the environment. I genuinely treasure my time at Ferrum and feel so very privileged to have met so many wonderful people,” she says.
Once at Ferrum, each of these dedicated men and women found a home where they were able to engage in campus activities and unique learning experiences. For Balderson, who met her husband, Russell ’86, during Resident Advisor training, the professors from whom she learned are a special group she fondly remembers. In particular, she credits Professor Sasha Saari’s enthusiasm for Russian and her philanthropy work with enhancing Balderson’s understanding of other cultures—something that has played a role in her work in the military. “It is amazing the barriers that evaporate when you understand someone else’s language, culture, and history,” she says. Dr. Gribbin, Dr. Payne, and Professor Pike were also favorites of Balderson, influencing many aspects of her life, including her written communication skills, her understanding of politics and strategy, and her interest in public service.
Greeley remembers his initial culture shock at attending his first Folklife Festival on campus, but most of his fondest and funniest memories center on the enjoyable times he had with his college roommates, Joey Carter ’02, Matt Dawson ’01, and Jac Bennington ’01. In discussing his professors, he notes, “If I could single out one professor it would be Dr. Demetri Tsanacas. His impact on my decisions at Ferrum and the lessons that I learned from him transcended my time there and are the foundations for any success I have had.” Woodyard’s memories of her days at Ferrum revolve around her time in the theatre, specifically being a part of the Jack Tale Players and performing at a retirement home during the holiday season. Woodyard was moved by the experience; “I remember fighting back tears that day. The look on their faces was something I will never forget,” she says. Etherton, a valuable member of the softball team, remembers winning the 2005 USA South Conference tournament and the impromptu campus parade that followed. She says, “It’s the people I remember and miss the most, by far. All of the women I ever had the pleasure of playing ball with will always hold a very special place in my heart.”
Not only is Ferrum College important to these men and women, but so, too, is their service to the military. As a civilian in military service, Woodyard believes the support of her family and her experiences at Ferrum prepared her for her current position. “My family has been very supportive about my job, and my mom and dad were both so proud of me,” she says. Woodyard hopes that people realize that the armed forces do not just consist of people in uniform, but that there are many different types of people in the community supporting the military. “I am so proud and honored to be a Department of the Army civilian. I love my job and plan on being here a long time,” she says.
Thompson, who plans to enter the coast guard upon graduation in May, felt like this was his calling. He says, “I feel like I live up to the Coast Guard’s motto: ‘Semper Paratus,’ which means always ready. I feel that I am ever ready to do whatever the cost to protect our great country.” Etherton has been interested in joining the military since she was a child; as early as the first grade, she drew a picture of a uniformed soldier when asked what she wanted to be when she grew up. “The military has exceeded every possible expectation. After five years of being in the army, I still love it. I love everything it stands for, and I hope to continue my career for years to come,” she says.
For Greeley and Balderson, entering the military was something with which they were very familiar, both coming from families with a military service history. Greeley notes that when he entered Ferrum he planned to earn a business degree and start climbing the corporate ladder. Greeley’s father was in the military and he was not interested in moving every few years or experiencing long absences. Things changed for him a few years into his time at Ferrum, when he began noticing things that made him believe the military was his calling as well. When he enlisted in the Army National Guard in 2000, he believed he could serve his country and make a little spending money at the same time; shortly after his first year, the 9-11 tragedy occurred.
Balderson’s history with the military started in a similar manner to that of Greeley. A self-proclaimed “Air Force brat,” Balderson grew up in many places; her father is a retired Air Force veteran and her mother spent six years in the Army, Navy and Air Force long before opportunities for women in the military were prevalent. Additionally, her brother is a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force and her son is a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps. Asked why the army is her chosen career path, Balderson says the simple answer is that the Navy recruiting office was closed at the time she went in to sign up, so she went to the Army office instead; the more complicated answer is that Balderson was looking for a more “drastic” employment opportunity after being caught in a government hiring freeze. Initially, obtaining job experience while earning a salary before moving to a civilian career was her goal, but what she found was ultimately so much more than her expectations. “While my family and I endured many separations and challenges associated with military service—we spent almost ten years total apart from each other—we received far more out of the military than we ever sacrificed,” Balderson says.
The parallels between life at Ferrum College and military service are clear. Balderson sums up her relationship to both the military and Ferrum College by noting that she is part of two great communities and is honored to carry Ferrum’s motto, “Not Self, But Others,” close to her heart. “If you commit to living your life with this in mind, it will come back to you a hundred fold.”
Woodyard believes her professors, from whom she says she learned professionalism and caring, had a significant impact on her. “When you are in school, it is not just about learning the subject; it is about learning how the subject is being taught. You gain more from a professional than someone who does not care,” Woodyard says. This lesson has clearly stuck with her, as she recently received the Department of the Army Medal for Civilian Service, presented to her by the Commanding General of Cadet Command from Fort Knox, Kentucky. She was recognized for her hard work, dedication and, no doubt, professionalism. Greeley sums up what seems to be the sentiment of the group in saying that Ferrum is a laboratory for experiential learning, from leading small group projects to doing something in the community. Greeley says “Ferrum created opportunities for me to apply the education I was receiving.”
As Ferrum College celebrates its Centennial, we honor not only Ferrum College alumni who have served in the military, but all the men and women who have served our country. We are grateful for your sacrifice and we offer our thanks for your service to both veterans and active-duty soldiers.