By Sarah Colson
One hundred years ago, Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Ronald Hite’s grandfather was fighting in World War I. Around the same time, the United States Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) was just getting started.
Decades after Hite’s grandfather was fighting in World War I, his father fought in World War II. Hite said with his family history in the Army, he “knew I had to serve in some way.”
Hite, along with three other East Tennessee State University alumni, were celebrated for that committment to service at the recent 100th anniversary of the founding of the ROTC, the National ROTC Cadet Command at Fort Knox, Ky. The National ROTC inaugurated a Hall of Fame to celebrate the milestone. Of the 650,000 Army ROTC graduates across the country, 326 were selected for this honor.
Three ETSU ROTC graduates were included as members of the first group to be inducted.
Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Hite, a 1964 ETSU ROTC graduate, had 33 years of military service prior to retiring. His notable assignments include the first commander of the Army’s Combat Systems Test Activity in Aberdeen (Md.) Proving Ground; development of the Army’s High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV) and several major weapons systems; and Military Deputy to the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Research, Development, and Acquisition, where he provided testimony before the House and Senate Defense Committees and directed the Army’s Acquisition Corps. After retiring from the military, he became president and CEO of Cypress International.
George Nichols, ETSU Class of 1962, was among the first black students to attend what was then East Tennessee State College and entered the ROTC program, where he was an outstanding cadet. Along with earning his college diploma, Nichols was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant. He served in the military for seven years, including time spent in Vietnam. Next, Nichols entered his second career, as a bank administrator and went on to be an employee of the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Now retired, he has always continued his efforts to promote civil rights.
Lt. Gen. (Ret) Hubert “Hugh” Smith, who also graduated from ETSU in 1962, was commissioned in the U.S. Army after graduation and spent 35 years on active duty, becoming a specialist in general logistics, supply and transportation.
Hite’s vast experience with the Army started with his family, but was fostered throughout his childhood and young adulthood by an array of mentors.
“It all started with my parents and grandparents who taught me a very great work ethic,” Hite said. “They wouldn’t accept anything else but hard work and teaching me to shake a man or woman’s hand and say, ‘this is what I’ve said I’m going to do’ and then following through with it. I was born and raised on a dairy farm. We never had plumbing and we milked cows by hand and I was glad to live there.”
After retiring from Cyrpress International in 2005, Hite said he “couldn’t wait to get back” on the farm. He now raises Black Angus cattle in Fall Branch.
Hite attended Sulphur Springs School, which then served all grades through high school.
When he was a junior there, the school started an early ROTC program, which allowed students who participated to skip their senior year of high school and enroll early at East Tennessee State University.
“So Nathan Hale, the principal of Sulphur Springs, sent me to ETSU a year early,” Hite said, “and then he sort of mentored me over the years until he passed away. In the military I had several great mentors. Nathan Hale was one of the guys that got me started.”
Hale saw him through his education at ETSU and made sure Hite was on the path toward leadership, both in the military and in the community. Hite went on to be the president of the ETSU Alumni Association for three years, has been on the board for 18 years, and is now one of the directors for the ETSU Foundation.
“ETSU really was the foundation for anything I did later in my life,” Hite said, “whether it was the various departments that taught me how to write better or do math better or of course the chemistry department because I majored in chemistry. But most of all it was the military science department, which gave me the opportunity to come in as army officer and make a career out of the army. What I learned at ETSU helped me when I was the CEO of a company after I retired from the army. It helped me with the management and leadership of people.
“I had the opportunity to work with some outstanding people over the years, both military and civilian. More importantly, I had a lot of people under me who were able to make the units I was in very successful. I was very blessed to have both people above me and below me that were able to mentor me and follow my leadership. That helps.”
Hite’s awards and decorations include two awards of the Distinguished Service Medal, four awards of the Legion of Merit, Bronze Star Medal, three awards of the Meritorious Service Medal, Army Commendation Medal, Meritorious Unit Citation, Expert Infantry’s Badge, the Parachutist Badge, Ranger Tab, Army General Staff Badge and various other decorations for foreign service.
“I was very proud to represent the university,” Hite said of his most recent award. “It meant more to me to represent the university than it did getting an individual honor. It was just great to be able to stand up when they put that thing around my neck and called out East TN State University. …There’s just been a whole lot of folks over the years that have made that happen and I appreciate everything that they’ve done for me. I was just honored to be there. It was a wonderful day.”