When it comes to Gonzaga University’s Army Reserve Officer Training Corps, the Bulldog Battalion, Ret. Lieutenant Col. Alan Westfeld is a walking, talking history book.
Walk into the recruiting and enrollment officer’s office and you’ll find wall-to-wall images of the 427 second lieutenants Westfield’s had a hand in commissioning into the U.S. Army since he retired from active duty as a lieutenant colonel in 2000. Pick a photo – any photo – and he’ll tell you a story about that Gonzaga graduate’s impact on campus, their military career highlights in the years since, even their mile-run times from their training days as undergrads. His pride comes through in every memory, noting those Bulldogs’ selfless service to school and country, their courage, and their senses of loyalty, duty and respect.
“That’s what we stand for, both within the U.S. Army as well as at this university,” Westfield says.
Many of those on his wall started out as students merely curious about what ROTC at Gonzaga was all about; he’d encourage them to try out a military science class as an elective. That’s often enough to lead to them joining and training with the Bulldog Battalion and eventually taking an oath as Army officers.
Westfield takes particular pride in the fact that when ROTC students graduate and move on, their relationship with Gonzaga only deepens. “They go on to lead, and they stay connected with Gonzaga,” Westfield says. “They let us know when they’ve graduated from military and civilian schools, training, gone on to flight school, gotten married, or had kids. The lifelong networking that happens is a real blessing.”
Lt. Col. Eduardo “Ed” Rodriguez, the department chair of Gonzaga’s Military Science program, is a prime example of the kind of lifelong connections built through Gonzaga’s ROTC program. The 1998 Gonzaga graduate grew up in a military household and was exploring college options when he got a call from a Gonzaga ROTC cadet. The San Diego native had never heard of the Spokane school, but his parents were about to move overseas and he had relatives in Washington state, so he took a chance on a move to the Inland Northwest.
It turned out to be the move of a lifetime. “When I came to visit campus, I knew this was the place for me,” Rodriguez says, recalling training exercises in Riverside State Park and digging fire trenches with his fellow cadets when a pyrotechnic went awry. He forged lifelong connections with his fellow Bulldogs during his time in ROTC.
“I’m still in contact with many of them, and we’ve seen each other periodically throughout the years,” Rodriguez says. “I’m sure a lot of programs are that way, but there’s something unique about Gonzaga in terms of how we connect and stay connected. I think it’s in what drives us – for the most part, people who come to Gonzaga University and go through the ROTC program here are motivated by service.”
That sense of service is what motivated Rodriguez to return to his alma mater after 24 years of a globe-trotting military career to help lead new generations of Bulldogs into what he calls “a life-changing program that produces leaders ready for adventure all over the world.”
2023 is a significant year for Gonzaga’s military community, supporters and families. Not only does it mark the 75th anniversary of the school’s ROTC battalion, it also marks the launch of a new Gonzaga Military Service Alumni Community. The support of military-affiliated students and alumni is something that Gonzaga President Thayne McCulloh, himself a U.S. Army veteran, is deeply committed to and takes pride in.
“The Bulldog Battalion has a long and important history at Gonzaga,” McCulloh says. “We honor the dedication and sacrifices that each servicemember makes. Each new addition to the Zag network of military service members is unique, valued and important.”
Gonzaga’s new partnership with the Pat Tillman Foundation shows the school’s further commitment to its military-affiliated community beyond its ROTC chapter. The foundation is a national non-profit formed in 2004 by friends and family of NFL player turned U.S. Army Ranger Pat Tillman to support the educational and leadership development of veterans and military spouses.
Each year, the foundation selects 60 Tillman Scholars for multi-year scholarships. In becoming a foundation University Partner, Gonzaga hopes to recruit Tillman Scholars to Spokane through a combination of support services, financial aid, and foundation scholarships.
Dan Futrell, the foundation’s CEO, is a 2005 Gonzaga graduate and a former Tillman Scholar himself; in 2011 he utilized the honor to pursue a Master’s degree at Harvard University. He notes that the U.S. military and Gonzaga share many values.
“There is such a strong thread between Gonzaga and the Tillman Foundation in our call to service and holding each other to a high level of excellence,” Futrell says. “Veterans have found a home here in a way that’s unique and related to the service mentality that unites our organizations. People come to Gonzaga to expand their horizons, grow intellectually, and to serve others, which is very much aligned with military service.”
The ROTC 75th anniversary, Tillman Foundation partnership, and launch of the Military Service Alumni Community to unite and support all current and former military members affiliated with Gonzaga are all aspects of life on campus that have earned GU a Silver Military Friendly school designation. “Supporting our veteran students, their family members and dependents is a privilege,” McCulloh says. “We are proud to be a place so many call ‘home.’”