On Jan. 26, in Naval Submarine Base’s Kings Bay Chapel, incoming naval commanding officer Stephen Col salutes his sideboys as he walks down the aisle. He meets and relieves outgoing and highly respected commander Jeremy Miller. After a series of commemorative words and awards, the change of command ceremony ends; Col leaves the building, now commanding officer of the blue crew for the ballistic-missile submarine USS Rhode Island.
Flashback to the early 2000s where Col, an undergraduate in computational physics, had pondered the future he’d create as a member of the Army ROTC program at UNLV.
“ROTC was a great leadership experience at UNLV,” Col says. “They really did a great job building teams, forming bonds there, and genuinely caring for people and developing them forward.”
The UNLV Army Reserve Officers' Training Corps, or ROTC for short, is an accompanying military program that enables college students to become commissioned Army officers while achieving their degree. Established at UNLV in 1997, the program offers students specialized military training, leadership development, and collaborative skills in teamwork. Once students have completed the program and graduated, they are commissioned, active-duty officers.
“Col was a very strong kid, very polite and well raised. He wanted to join something bigger than himself like a lot of young men and women. So he was immediately attracted to the Army ROTC,” said Ross Bryant, executive director of UNLV’s Military and Veteran Services Center.
Bryant, then UNLV’s founding Army ROTC Commander, established and managed the program when Col joined as a cadet.
“Col joined us late as a sophomore, and so we sent him to Challenge Camp, a rigorous five-week ROTC course in Kentucky in which he excelled,” said Bryant.
Once returning, Col was offered a full-ride Army ROTC scholarship to finish his last two years under contract to become an officer.
Initially considering becoming an Army pilot, Col soon discovered his eyesight didn’t qualify him for the position, which led him to reconsider his plans for the future.
Bryant and UNLV Army ROTC leadership sat down with Col to discuss the opportunity to apply for the Navy Nuclear program, a design and maintenance program that operates the U.S. nuclear-powered naval fleet.
It was then that Col caught interest. “I started looking into the program,” he said. “They had a lot of science and engineering which looked interesting to me – and the submarines sounded pretty cool too.”
With the support of his UNLV ROTC commanders, Col was released from his Army contract after graduating from UNLV to join the Navy Nuclear Program.
Since then, Col has been one of the few naval officers to have graduated from UNLV.
Now, 20 years later, Commander Stephen Col stands before submarine USS Rhode Island, one of six ballistic-missile submarines stationed in Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, Georgia. The fleet holds over 100 enlisted personnel and officers, all of whom are now under the leadership of Cmdr. Col.
Once again, UNLV’s students and alumni transcend above and beyond expectations through hard work, dedication, and passion for what they do; supporting their community, their nation, and beyond.
“UNLV was a great experience overall and I appreciated being able to take a bunch of different classes, a variety of everything,” Col says. “All and all, it was great.”
Bryant, along with the other former leaders at UNLV’s Army ROTC program, is proud to see Col’s journey from Army cadet to Naval commander.
“Here at UNLV’s Military and Veteran Services Center, we always say ‘veteran victory starts here at UNLV’,” he says. “Again, UNLV is a transformational university that helps people on their path wherever they may be.”