50 years strong

Military program marches on

The Eagle Battalion won the annual Northern Warfare Challenge on Grandad Bluff. The winter event tested the endurance and strength of a record 29 teams from throughout the country in February.

Posted 10:21 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 25, 2021

It was the foundation for 1st Lt. Alastair Keys, ’17, who captured first place in April’s 37th annual Best Ranger Competition determining the best two-man U.S. Army team.

It created the Northern Warfare Challenge that attracts nationwide ROTC brigades — won in February by the home team in a hard-fought victory in snow, ice and frigid temperatures.        

It’s home to Sgt. 1st Class JoAnn Wampole-Swanson, named the No. 1 instructor in the Midwest Brigade and the Wisconsin Army National Guard.

The U.S. Army ROTC’s Eagle Battalion has rallied its troops to success during the past half century. Its cadets have marched a long way from humble beginnings during the Vietnam War, when it was questioned whether an ROTC program should be allowed on campus.

It was in 1966 when WSU-La Crosse initially endorsed and filed a request for a ROTC program. But there would be six years of discussion and push-back by faculty, students and others on whether a military program should be approved on campus amid Vietnam.

In early 1971, following the Kent State Shootings a year earlier, the Board of Regents approved a La Crosse ROTC program after an endorsement from the 5th Army Headquarters in Chicago.

“Personally, I am delighted. It provides additional opportunity to our students, as many of them go into the service whey they graduate,” WSU-La Crosse President Kenneth Lindner told a Racquet reporter after the approval. “Philosophically, I want to see Army officers trained at universities, such as ours, where they will get a good background in the workings of democracy. It would be bad if future officers were trained in one school and were produced as an elite corps.”

Since, students have developed leadership traits imperative to success in both the military and civilian life. They discover firsthand what it means to lead and manage, along with utilizing keen analytical skills for short- and long-range planning while excelling in interpersonal management skills.

“We produce quality leaders with the skills to excel, both in the workplace and in today's Army,” notes Lt. Col. Erik Archer, professor and chair of the Military Science Department.

Students hail from a wide variety of academic programs, as well as from other area campuses — Viterbo University, St. Mary’s University and Winona State University.

The UWL program took its orders and continues to successfully follow them.

By the numbers


Military personnel — two majors and a sergeant — who arrived on campus in April 1971 to prepare and begin working on military curriculum for the fall semester. 


First-year students taking Military Science 101 in the ROTC’s inaugural semester, fall 1971. It was the third largest ROTC first-year student enrollment that year among 31 schools in Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Michigan and Minnesota. Schools topping UWL included one in the Big Ten, while the other required its first-year students to take ROTC.


Cadet monthly pay for their first two years in the program. Advanced cadets received $50 a month.


Students who earned the program’s first two commissions: Thomas Bond and Ronal Allen. (See photo.)

The entire UWL ROTC Class of ’72 Ron Allen, left, and Tom Bond pose in their military fatigues.

Anniversary celebration

The ROTC Eagle Battalion will celebrate its first half century with stories and photos of graduates over the past 50 years. These include Purple Heart recipients, three-star generals and those excelling in all walks of life. The 50th anniversary Military Ball will be held in April. See more at: https://www.uwlax.edu/rotc.

Members of the UWL ROTC class of 1984-85 pose for a group picture on the steps of the Center for the Arts.

Stay involved

To stay involved, ROTC alumni may contribute to the Eagle Battalion Alumni Fund, volunteer for current ROTC events and activities, or visit campus to be a guest speaker. For details contact zlarson@uwlax.edu.

See more about the first years of UWL’s ROTC program from this Murphy Library digital collection

See more about the Eagle Battalion’s annual Warfare Challenge

Reunion event

UWL’s ROTC program will celebrate its past, present and future during a reunion event Saturday, Nov. 13. 

Eagle Battalion alumni are invited to return to campus for a football game between UW-La Crosse and UW-Eau Claire, followed by an alumni function at the La Crosse Distilling Company, 129 Vine St. 

Kickoff for the football game is set for 11:30 a.m. Alumni who would like to be recognized on the field during the National Anthem should arrive by 11 a.m. and report to Veterans Memorial Field Sports Complex. 

The alumni function will run from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. 

The reunion event comes on the heels of Veterans Day on Thursday, Nov. 11, and marks the 50th year of UWL’s ROTC program. See more about the history of the program here. 

All ROTC alumni and their families are invited to attend. Registration is not necessary, but an email to rotc@uwlax.edu is appreciated. 

Click here for more information.