From Geneseo to Guam

Claudia Loucks
Tom Anderson of Geneseo, an Infantry Officer with the United States Army, is serving a four-year assignment at the University of Guam. Contributed Photo

Tom Anderson graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 2002, was commissioned as an Infantry Officer and has been in the Active Duty service for the last 18 years.

He currently is serving as director of the ROTC program at the University of Guam where he is in charge of approximately 100 Cadets in the program and 30 Cadets in the program in Saipan.

“I am also in charge of the ROTC program in the nearby island of Saipan (pop. 50,000) at the Northern Marianas College,” he said. “I fly to Saipan from Guam once a month during the semester, in order to teach the students there and to coordinate for the support of the program and students there. I also fly to the Island of Tinian, where the Enola Gay departed from in World War II, once a semester to promote our program.”

“During the academic year, I teach ROTC classes to the seniors on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and we also do Physical Training (PT) with our Cadets from Monday through Thursday from 6 to 7 a.m.,” Anderson said. “On Fridays, from 7 to 9 a.m., we have lab times, but we aren’t doing experiments like the science classes, we are instead training our Cadets on how to conduct certain Army missions and how to lead their future soldiers with confidence and competence.”

He said there are four Army Soldiers and Officers who help instruct the Cadets in the program, in addition to three Department of the Army civilians who support the program in the areas of Logistics, Recruitment, and Administration.

“By the time students reach their senior year, we usually commission about 20 Cadets as Second Lieutenants each year,” he said.

The journey from Geneseo to Guam can be traced back to Anderson’s days at GHS, where he graduated from in 1998. In high school, he was on the football, wrestling and track teams for four year and was a founding member of the GHS Key Club. He graduated from West Point in June of 2002 with a Bachelor’s Degree of Science in International Relations.

After graduating from West Point 18 years ago, Anderson has been stationed in Vicenza, Italy; Fort Wainwright, Alaska; Fort Carson, Colorado, and at the Rock Island Arsenal.

He has been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan for a total of 30 months he also was deployed to Kuwait and Jordan for six months in support of Operation Spartan Shield.

“I earned my Master’s Degree in English and taught English at West Point for two years,” he said. “I married my wife Crystal (Otero) Anderson in 2013 and we have three children: Tommy, 6; Addison, 3; and Theodore, 1.”

Anderson explained that one of the options for Lieutenant Colonels in the Army is to be in charge of the ROTC program at various schools across the United States…”My job title is Professor of Military Science which essentially means that I am the Director for the ROTC Program,” he said. “ROTC exists at Universities so that the Army can train students to become Officers while they are also completing their college degrees. An ROTC Cadet is normally commissioned an Officer once they have obtained their degrees and also successfully completed the training requirement for ROTC.”

Anderson was commissioned through the United States Military Academy at West Point, which he said is a different commissioning source than ROTC, which is run by its own Commanding General at U.S. Army Cadet Command, while West Point has its own Commanding General called Superintendent.

“For our Cadets in ROTC, we help them make the transition to military training during their freshman year, when they put a uniform on the first time learn to live ‘in the field’, he said. “Guam has jungles, rivers, mountains, and beaches that create a lot of good challenge for the Cadets to navigate and maneuver through, which increases their understanding of how terrain, weather, and environmental conditions can impact Army missions. For example, we just finished a week of summer training with the Cadets at the University of Guam, and they had to endure the 100 degree humidity during their patrols during the day while also shielding their equipment from the rain at night.”

He admits the current situation with the COVID-19 pandemic “has made teaching ROTC slightly more challenging since we can’t do everything we used to face-to-face. We’ve had to be creative to maximize the time we have with the Cadets in-person to make sure that they are still challenged as leaders and are able to develop the skills required to be a good Army Officer, much of which cannot be taught or evaluated online.”

Anderson said the most “exciting part” of his job “is working every day with he Cadets and helping them learn how to be good leaders while also helping them gain the skills necessary to be a good Army Officer. Being an Army Officer has allowed me to see the world and serve our country, and I’m proud to be able to mentor them as they embark on a similar path as the one I took.”

Prior to the assignment in Guam, Anderson said he had never before been to the island. “Guam, population 170,000, only has two seasons – the rainy season, which runs from July to December, and the dry season, which runs from January to June. The rainy season always has the risk of Typhoons, and there are usually two to three major storms every year. There is usually a two to three day warning before a major storm hits.”

Anderson said there is a saying that “Guam is where America’s Day begins…We are 15 hours ahead of Geneseo.”

When asked if the assignment to Guam was a surprise for he and his wife, Anderson said, “We knew we were going to be able to receive an ROTC assignment, but we did not know for sure whether or not we would be able to be assigned to the University of Guam,” he said. “Guam was our number one choice; since we really wanted to have an adventure with the kids and help them to understand a culture and location that they might never have the opportunity to experience otherwise. Crystal and I definitely see this as a positive experience for our family.”

“Crystal and the kids make this assignment so much fun,” he said. “We have been able to go on jungle hikes, learn about the WWII history of Guam, and explore the beaches together. We live on a Navy base on the western side of the island, and I have about a 30-minute commute to the University every day.”

“For our family, the pandemic has brought us even closer, as we have spent a lot of time together in the fresh air and sun and not as much time at in-door public venues,” he said. “We’ve tried to keep the kids active and engaged by exploring the island, going on hikes and exploring the island’s many natural wonders.”

“Guam is truly one of America’s gems,” Anderson said. “There is so much to see and explore, and the island’s people are kind and patriotic. I definitely recommend anyone who is able to, come visit, or if you have a child going to college, encourage them to be adventurous and come to the University of Guam.”