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Army ROTC transforms students into 'leaders for life'

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

Two men in military fatigues talking and shaking hands.
November 16, 2023

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

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