ROTC head helps in Iraq

ROTC head helps in Iraq
Lt. Col. Janet Kirkton is accustomed to changes of scenery during her 19-year U.S. Army career. However, going from the UT Martin campus to the U.S. Embassy in Iraq just might be her most dramatic change to date. She has recently left her position as professor of military science and head of the university’s Army ROTC Program to assist with planning efforts for the Iraq War. It’s an assignment that will bring her in daily contact with top multinational military and Iraqi leaders in the war on terror. Kirkton, of Troy, Tenn., will leave June 21 to become a senior planner working under Gen. David Petraeus, the commanding general of the multinational forces in Iraq. Petraeus was recently appointed head of U.S. Central Command by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, which means that Kirkton will then report to Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, who will become the new commanding general. Before coming to UT Martin in fall 2005, Kirkton was an operations officer for the 1st Engineer Brigade at Ft. Leonard Wood, Mo. She also previously taught at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, so when the UT Martin assignment opened, the Skyhawk Battalion and Martin appeared to be a perfect fit. Kirkton recalled that she “felt really close to the community when I got here,” and some productive years for the program followed. Kirkton found the Skyhawk Battalion “on an upswing” but not reaching recruiting goals, something the battalion has achieved each year since her arrival in Martin. Other achievements under her leadership include the battalion’s entry into Jackson and the cadets’ success in the Ranger Challenge. The program’s expansion into Jackson allows the battalion to offer Army ROTC Scholarships to students at Union University, Freed-Hardeman University, Lambuth University, Lane College and Jackson State Community College. There is also now a Skyhawk Battalion office at the UT Martin Jackson Center located on the Jackson State campus. The Ranger Challenge is a skills and endurance competition for ROTC cadets held annually at Ft. Jackson, S.C. In addition to vying for bragging rights with other universities, the Ranger Challenge offers a way to measure the success of the battalion’s training programs. “We might be small, but the cadets we produce are simply outstanding,” Kirkton said. “So I’m very proud of my cadre and the training that they do.” Tyler McAnally, who received his bachelor’s degree in May from UT Martin and was commissioned as an Army second lieutenant, was a member of the Ranger Challenge team. He said that Kirkton helped to make the Skyhawk Battalion successful by offering ways for cadets to improve themselves. “She did this by giving us the opportunity to go to Air Assault and Airborne schools and others as well,” he said. “These slots were given to the most qualified cadets, so competition was high.” Kirkton leaves UT Martin with plenty of enthusiasm for her new assignment. Specific duties will evolve after she arrives in Iraq, but she does know that she will participate in strategic and contingency planning for the war effort at the highest level. For example, it won’t be unusual for her to observe discussions between the Iraqi president and commanding general. “I don’t know,” she said. “I might be making coffee or making slides, … but certainly I’ll be in and around the area and hopefully making a good contribution to that team.” The challenges of her new assignment include some very real dangers. Indirect mortar fire is a concern, with some 700 attacks recorded around the embassy in recent months. “We have all the safe equipment. … I’m just going to go to work every day and not worry about that part,” she said. Kirkton joins many other members of the military in making personal sacrifices to serve her country. During her yearlong deployment, she will leave behind her husband, a retired infantry officer, and four children, including a son who will begin college this fall. Despite the pending separation, her family is supportive, and Kirkton sees much for which to be thankful. “… I’m so blessed in my career to have only had to deploy twice,” she said. “Many of my peers have gone three and four times, and so I have certainly nothing to complain about compared to everybody else’s workload.” Kirkton is optimistic about the future of the Skyhawk Battalion that will be led by her replacement, Lt. Col. Angela Odom. She is also positive about the military and sees service to country as a noble calling. “My father was in the military. I’m just very proud of our service,” she said. “Selfless service to the nation, though, I think takes a special calling, and so I think our young people could only be optimistic about that service and be very proud about that decision.”

Leave a Comment