What started as a simple conversation about the amazing contributions of Hokies serving in the military far away from home has turned into a tradition as proud as the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets itself.
The Corps of Cadet’s Hokie Hero program, started in 2006 by IMG College and sponsored by the University Bookstore, honors alumni who are deployed during each radio broadcast of Virginia Tech football games. In addition, those alumni are highlighted on the Corps of Cadets website, in the Corps Review magazine, and by Virginia Tech News.
Col. Frank Huber, U.S. Army, who earned a degree in electrical engineering from the College of Engineering in 1985, said the Hokie Hero program is “an important way to bring home that Virginia Tech is unique. Its motto Ut Prosim, That I May Serve, is more than just a trite phrase. It is an important part of the education of students as exemplified by those who join the Corps of Cadets to begin a life of leadership. As we all know, true leadership begins with service.”
Fourteen Hokie Heroes are chosen each year, 12 for regular season games plus two for a possible ACC Championship game and a bowl game. If necessary, two are highlighted at the bowl game.
The process of choosing the Hokie Heroes starts in late spring, when the Corps of Cadets alumni director sends out a request for the names of alumni who will be deployed during the upcoming football season. Family and friends also send in nominations.
Most Hokie Heroes are serving in the military, but on occasion a civilian contractor deployed in support of the military has been recognized.
“I was very flattered to be considered a Hokie Hero,” said Cmdr. Bill Balding, U.S. Navy, who earned a degree in history from the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences in 1989. “Being a Virginia Tech grad has always been a point of pride with me, and I've worn the colors literally around the world. Adding to this was the excitement of meeting other alumni around the world.”
Hokie sportscasters Bill Roth and Mike Burnop talk about the Hokie Hero during each game’s radio broadcast. Roth, whose conversation with the corps alumni director seven years ago started this program, said it is the most important part of any broadcast for the duo.
“These Hokies are real people with real names and actual families, and they are all so important," he said. "We're grateful to all of them and I know our listeners are, as well. Our radio broadcasts are a great vehicle to help spread the word to listeners who might not be aware of the corps’ importance to our school and our country.”
Burnop said the program adds an important perspective to each broadcast. “As I have said many times on the air, we talk about the heroes on the football field a lot — who made a game-changing play or scored a touchdown or made a key tackle," he said. "That's a three-hour game. The Hokie Heroes are on the field 24/7, sleeping with one eye open when they can so we can broadcast and the fans can see that football game. They keep us and the world safe so we can have these privileges.”
Huber said the Hokie Hero program helps to keep servicemen and women from being forgotten when they’re overseas.
“When I am deployed for a year, my only real connection to what is going on back home is through the news media. When my part of the war is not considered newsworthy, I begin to feel as though I am forgotten and that no one at home, beyond my immediate family, cares anymore that I am again spending a year away," he said.
"The Hokie Hero program reminds me that Americans do care about our soldiers, that I am not forgotten and that the sacrifices of my family and myself are meaningful and deeply appreciated.”
The following alumni were named the Hokie Heroes for the 2012 football season:
Listen to Hokie sportscasters Bill Roth and Mike Burnop discuss the 2012 Hokies Heros during their radio broadcast of each game.
If you want to nominate a Corps of Cadets alumnus who will be deployed during the upcoming football season, email Corps of Cadets Alumni Director Col. Patience Larkin with contact information for that person.
Corps of Cadets alumni are serving in all branches of the military around the world.
In a unique partnership, the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets and the Virginia Tech football team have established a program to ensure the U.S., Virginia, and Team Spirit flags are properly honored while creating an opportunity to highlight cadets and players for their outstanding performance.
Take a look back at previous Spotlight features in our archive.