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Army ROTC transforms students into 'leaders for life'

November 16, 2023

Sun Devil Battalion Chair Col. Erich Schneider on benefits of ROTC, leading cadets

Watching the “changing of the guard” at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery left such a positive impression on eighth grader Erich Schneider that it led him to where he is today.

Recently promoted to a military rank few achieve, “full bird” colonel, Schneider is now the top officer molding future military leaders as the head of the Army ROTC Sun Devil battalion at Arizona State University.

“I was really taken aback by the Changing of the Guard because it occurred to me that these soldiers, tomb sentinels, are present 24/7, rain or shine, sleet or snow,” said Schneider about that day in Arlington watching the soldiers of the Army’s 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, known as The Old Guard.

“The discipline, the dedication, the honor was truly remarkable and left a lasting impression on me.

“I was very moved by that at a very young age, very inspired.”

The Arlington experience, combined with his love for sports, teamwork and a family history of military service steered the Milwaukie, Oregon, native toward the Army. Schneider was accepted to Texas A&M University where he joined Army ROTC and the lauded Corps of Cadets in 1997. He earned distinguished military graduate honors and was commissioned as an infantry officer in 2001, a month prior to the 9/11 attacks on the U.S.

Schneider arrived at ASU in 2021 to lead Army ROTC as department chair and professor of military science after serving at seven different installations throughout the U.S. and an equal number of deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. During his 22 years of service, Schneider has served in every leadership position from platoon leader to battalion commander. Now he leads more than 200 cadets on campus.

“Being in charge of the Army ROTC program here at Arizona State has been awesome,” said former Army Ranger Schneider. “We were so excited to learn that we would be coming here to lead the Sun Devil Battalion. It has also been a journey in learning and growing.

“I’ve learned and grown in my position largely through efforts to connect with my cadets and prepare them for Army service as a junior leader in a complex environment. This has led me to bridge generational gaps and meet my cadets where they are, to promote leadership development and excellence in the classroom, in the gym and in the field.”

Schneider credits his time in college in ROTC for playing an instrumental part in his own development as a young leader. He now wants to give back and invest in the future of the Army by helping those who want to serve the nation.

“It has been an awesome experience, there’s no doubt about that,” Schneider said about his military career. “I just hope I am playing as big of a role in our cadet’s life as my cadre and my instructors played in mine. I am challenged every day, and I absolutely challenge our cadets daily to learn and grow professionally as best they can.”

Schneider answered some questions to provide more insight about ROTC, leadership, public service and what makes the Army different. 

Video by Ken Fagan/ASU News

Question: What would you say to someone considering joining Army ROTC?

Answer: I would say, what are you waiting for? Take that first step. Come join our program. We are producing quality leaders, we are giving you skills to give you a competitive edge in a very complex world. It is going to make you better physically and mentally, regardless of whether you choose a life of service and stay in the military like I have. You can always move on out of the military, and you’re a leader for life to go contribute to the communities and causes which you’re passionate about.

Q: What are some of the benefits of being part of Army ROTC?

A: What we’re producing in Army ROTC is scholars, athletes and leaders. We are building that as skills in everybody and basically producing that quality leader of character for future service in the Army. And that’s active duty, Reserve, National Guard. There are so many opportunities and benefits through Army ROTC. You’ll have world-class cadre members, Army civilians and university employees investing in you every day to make sure you’re doing well in academics. We’re investing in you physically and mentally. You will have the opportunity to serve something bigger than yourself, creating lifelong friendships, building confidence and experiencing the satisfaction that only comes from hard work and dedication.

Ultimately, we’re going to make you into the leader that our young soldiers need in the United States Army.

Q: What is one of the most important traits of a leader?

A: We have a motto where we talk about trust, empowerment, accountability and mastering the basics. We call it TEAM. It’s really important that we do that, because what I take away from all my experiences is that trust is really the bedrock as a leader. It’s what allows a team to build together, and what allows us to lead our soldiers.  

Q: Are there specific degrees Army ROTC favors?

A: In Army ROTC there are so many subjects you can study. Everything is approved or on the table. Every degree that ASU offers, every other degree any other ROTC program offers is welcome. We want that diversity in the classroom and in academics to bring that as a strength into the Army for future service.

Q: Why is public service important?

A: There are so many functions in our community that are required to run it safely and efficiently, and requires the support of folks who are willing to carry a heavier burden or step into an unknown that could be otherwise dangerous. I think that our law enforcement, police officers and firefighters are doing that on a daily basis, and sometimes they don’t get the credit of respect they deserve. So I would encourage our youth, regardless if you’re interested in military service, or joining the police force, becoming a firefighter or doing something even like the Peace Corps. We’ve got to serve others first so we understand what the community needs, so we can give back and make our communities stronger.

Q: What makes the Army special?

A: We are a professional force, devoted to serve our country and accept the oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States.” We have a value system, referred to as “the Army values.” The values include loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage. These are so important that we weave them into everything we do.

Whether you are a leader in training in ROTC or a basic trainee getting ready to graduate and move on to your unit, it’s so important that Army values are instilled in all of our soldiers, non-commissioned officers and leaders. And that’s what sets the U.S. Army apart from any other army across the entire world.

Top photo: Army Col. and ASU Professor of military science Erich Schneider congratulates Navy ROTC cadets after the “Battle of Mogadishu” run held Oct. 4 in commemoration of the 30th anniversary of the event. The run by all ASU ROTC units began and ended at Mountain America Stadium. Photo by Samantha Chow/ASU

Jerry Gonzalez

Assistant Director , Media Relations and Strategic Communications

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ASU experts share mindfulness tips for the holiday season

November 16, 2023

Center for Mindfulness, Compassion and Resilience to launch new course in spring

We all know the holidays can be hectic — and even science backs this up. A 2020 study by the American Psychological Association found that a quarter of all Americans consider themselves "extremely stressed" during the holiday season. 

Triggering that stress? According to the study: things like not having enough time, money and the incessant pressure to give or receive gifts. Then of course there are family dynamics to consider, the potential for uncivil political discourse, travel meltdowns and the list goes on.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Nika Gueci says while you may not be able to control what happens, you can control your reaction with a few purposeful practices that can lessen the worry sparked by what’s marketed as the most wonderful time of the year.

“We can do this by being mindful, by not losing sight of our values and what really matters about the season, by being realistic and flexible, by taking care of ourselves, and by practicing gratitude and compassion,” she said.

Gueci is the executive director of Arizona State University's Center for Mindfulness, Compassion and Resilience. The center provides mindfulness expertise and resources, much of it free, year-round to the university and wider community. 

Gueci and her center colleague Zachary Reeves-Blurton spoke to ASU News about how to mindfully navigate the holidays and shared the details of a new mindfulness course launching this spring that can help build up these skills all year long.

Question: How can mindfulness help people have a more enjoyable holiday season?

Gueci: Mindfulness can dial down holiday stress by promoting awareness and presence, allowing you to savor joyful moments rather than rushing through them. It teaches you to respond, not react, to family dynamics or unexpected issues, providing emotional stability. Plus, mindfulness techniques can help you make more intentional choices about holiday spending, eating and commitments.

Q: Where should someone start if they’ve never dedicated time to mindfulness before, to keep from getting overwhelmed?

Gueci: To weave mindfulness into your daily life, begin with activities you already do, like eating or walking. Start small. During meals, focus solely on the food — its texture, flavor and aroma — rather than eating while watching TV or scrolling on your phone. For walking, be aware of each step, how your feet lift off, move through the air and make contact with the ground. The aim is to fully engage in the current moment, shutting out distractions or drifting thoughts. This anchors you, making daily activities not just routine, but a form of mental training. 

Reeves-Blurton: Apps can help mindfulness novices get started, or provide structure to those who know what to do but just never find the time. A five-minute daily meditation focusing on your breath can initiate the mindfulness journey. Use an app like Insight Timer, Headspace or Calm for guided sessions. They have free content, simple navigation and brief guided meditations for several purposes, such as sleep or anxiety, allowing you to practice without getting overwhelmed by the underlying science or philosophy. 

Q: How can people incorporate mindfulness into their daily lives so they’re not “cramming” during stressful times? 

Reeves-Blurton: To fully harness the benefits of mindfulness, consistency is as crucial as it is in physical activity. Much like a muscle, your "mindfulness muscle" grows stronger with regular activity — making practices like stress relief increasingly effective and reflexive over time. Initially, the calming effects are felt, but with continued commitment, they'll start to permeate your entire day. To build this habit, it's helpful to schedule mindfulness exercises into your daily routine. Partnering up with someone or joining a group can further reinforce the practice until it becomes second nature.

Gueci: For ASU students and employees interested in learning more, you can take a new course we’re starting this spring called Foundations of Mindfulness and Resilience: Science and Practice. This transformative seven-week class promises a comprehensive exploration into the realm of mindfulness. It's not just about learning the theories or understanding the scientific framework behind mindfulness; it’s a blend of theoretical knowledge and practical skills. 

Assignments are designed to stimulate self-reflection, encouraging students to critically assess their own experiences and growth in mindfulness and resilience. In essence, this course aims to cultivate a habit of mindfulness that deeply ingrains the practice into the daily lives of participants. And, it aligns perfectly with broader societal calls for enhanced mental health support, making it more than just an educational experience — it's a life-changing initiative.

Q: What are some other accessible mindfulness practices?

Reeves-Blurton: The simplest, most accessible mindfulness practice is simply to pay attention to our breath. Without going too deeply into the science of it, the biofeedback of our breath and how we breathe has a great deal to do with how we feel. When we are upset or anxious, we tend to breathe shallowly or quickly, which triggers the physiological stress response within our bodies. When we allow ourselves to breathe deeply, slowly and regularly, our brain interprets the ease of our breath with safety or ease, which leads to emotional, mental and physical relaxation. When we notice we need calmness, we can do simple breathing exercises like box breathing, diaphragmatic breathing or just counting our breaths

Q: Do you have a favorite practice? If so, what is it and why?

Gueci: My favorite mindfulness practice is the guided body scan meditation, many of which can be found and downloaded from Insight Timer and other apps. I like the body scan because it guides you to focus your attention within the body itself — sensations we feel along our skin, feelings of ease or dis-ease, and notice any areas we are holding physical tension. I try to spend between 10 and 15 minutes on a body scan every morning, but we can do them any time — when we are waking up and becoming alert for the day, as we are winding down for sleep or when we feel our minds racing and simply need to re-ground ourselves in the present moment or let go of emotions, anxiety or stress.

Reeves-Blurton: As brief mindfulness breaks throughout my day — maybe when I realize I’ve been sitting at my desk too long or catch myself dwelling on a thought or simply need to hit the "refresh" button on my brain — I do what is called a five-senses meditation. I live on the edge of a forest, so I love to walk out onto my patio to do this, but we can do it anywhere. Just sitting or standing there, I breathe deeply and methodically work through my senses. I first notice what I can see — focusing on objects, but also shapes, light, color and patterns. Next, I tune into what I can hear, noticing specific sounds or even the quiet space between sounds. Then I turn to what I can feel on my skin: the feeling of the ground under my feet, the temperature of the air or sun on my face and body, the breeze. Finally, I bring my attention to what I can smell or taste: the scents in the air, the cup of coffee in my hand. I stand or sit doing this for as long as I need until I feel refreshed. Maybe a few minutes, maybe longer, my eyes open or closed, all the while breathing deeply but gently.

Amanda Goodman

Senior communications specialist , Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation