Posted 2:44 p.m. Wednesday, April 20, 2022

The UW-La Crosse Eagle Battalion receives a ribbon in recognition of the 2021 MacArthur Award. The award is given annually to the best ROTC battalion in the Midwest's Third Brigade, which comprises 42 military science programs in 10 states.

UWL's Eagle Battalion recognized as best in region

A decade ago, UW-La Crosse’s ROTC Eagle Battalion was in danger of being disestablished. 

On Wednesday, it was recognized as the best ROTC battalion in the Midwest’s Third Brigade — which comprises 42 military science programs in Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin. 

“This is a huge day for our program. This will be long remembered as the year we won the MacArthur Award,” said Lt. Col. Erik Archer, chair of UWL’s Military Science Department. “I’m OK foot-stomping that and being proud of that, because it was earned. It’s not a short-term thing. The power and the potency of this award is that it was earned through the long game. This award is for our cadets, because they’ve done incredible things.” 

Archer attributes the Eagle Battalion’s success to its 70-plus cadets, who have strong grade point averages and physical training scores, and consistently make time for competitive summer training and community service.  

He also credits department faculty for molding and inspiring the cadets, and university leadership for its continued support of the program. 

Chancellor Joe Gow said the award should be a point of pride for not just the Eagle Battalion, but the university as a whole.

From left to right: Col. Adam J. Lewis, Battalion Commander Jake Ryan, Chancellor Joe Gow and Lt. Col. Erik Archer

"It's a joy to watch the program and see the students on campus and the pride they take in the Eagle Battalion," said Gow, noting that the battalion includes students from Viterbo University and Winona State University. "It really is special for me personally to be the person from UWL to say how proud we are to have the Eagle Battalion on our campus."

U.S. Army Cadet Commander Col. Adam J. Lewis, who oversees battalions in the Midwest’s Third Brigade, said the award has added meaning given the state of the Eagle Battalion several years ago. 

During one particularly down year, he noted, the battalion commissioned just nine officers. In recent years, that figure has doubled.

“There were dark days, and there were questions on the Army side and the university side about whether this was going to work,” Lewis said. “The evidence speaks for itself. Folks dug in and dug themselves out, and here you are today. The future looks very, very bright.”

“This is a huge day for our program," said Lt. Col. Erik Archer, chair of UWL's Military Science Department. "This will be long remembered as the year we won the MacArthur Award."

More than awards or public praise, Archer is impressed by the sense of family and camaraderie that has developed within the battalion in recent years. 

“The takeaway of today is the culture that makes this all possible,” he said. “That’s the gasoline that allows the machine to keep running.” 

That sentiment is echoed by Eagle Battalion Commander Jake Ryan, who’s about to wrap up his senior year. 

Being a part of the Eagle Battalion has been a deeply formative experience, he said — one that has required a lot of work, but has given him so much more in return. 

“This is a reflection of all the cadets in the program and the work they put in day in and day out,” he said. “It’s a lot to balance, being a student along with all the work we do as cadets in the community. It’s amazing what we’ve been able to accomplish, and this award truly shows that.”