Historic year for USC’s military celebrated with full honors

Historic year for USC’s military celebrated with full honors

A World War II hero, an astronaut and a pioneering Air Force general are saluted at the USC military community’s biggest night.

March 30, 2023 Ron Mackovich-Rodriguez

It is not uncommon for Trojans who are also veterans to fly cross-country for the annual USC Veterans, Service Members and ROTC Students Gala in downtown Los Angeles every March.

Chris Alora, former president of the USC Student Veterans Association and a U.S. Army veteran now earning a master’s degree in international affairs at George Washington University, would be making the round trip in just over 24 hours.

“One of the greatest things about USC is the culture for the veteran-affiliated community,” Alora said, as he stepped away from a boisterous impromptu reunion just outside the ballroom at the The Westin Bonaventure Hotel on Tuesday. “Aside from academics, it’s the main reason I picked USC. The military family here has grown, it’s gotten stronger, and the camaraderie is so uplifting. It’s worth flying back and doing a 24-hour turnaround. In fact, I’ll be back next year.”

USC veterans gala: Charles Bolden
Retired Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden speaks at USC’s Veterans, Service Members and ROTC Students Gala. (Photo/Steve Cohn)

Alora was among over 500 members of USC’s veteran community in attendance Tuesday night, where USC President Carol L. Folt kicked off the evening by saluting remarkable Trojan veterans.

“We all know that Trojans who answered the call of duty show their love of country, their love of education, and they represent the very best of this university and our nation,” Folt said. “I’m honored they are part of our Trojan Family.”

USC’s military tradition sails past the century mark

The university has been allied with the U.S. military going back to World War I when USC was a training school for U.S. Army officers. Since 1984, ROTC programs have been part of the academic units of the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy.

Today, USC ranks among the top research universities conducting research funded by the Department of Defense. Of all funded research at USC, 15% is sponsored by the Department of Defense, representing a $100 million investment.

At Tuesday night’s event, a presidential shout-out went to the USC Institute for Creative Technologies, which just won a $1 million Veterans Administration challenge. In collaboration with the nonprofit SoldierStrong program, the institute developed Battle Buddy, an app for veterans at risk for suicide.

This year, five USC Air Force ROTC cadets will commission to the U.S. Space Force, while two Navy ROTC midshipmen have been chosen for the prestigious Nuclear Propulsion Officer Training program.

There are more than 1,000 student veterans at USC, along with 200 dependents. Veterans among faculty and staff number at least 400.

A ‘powerful gathering’ of groundbreaking Trojans at USC veterans gala

The gala was held almost 50 years to the day after the first female Navy pilots began training in Florida.

Stayce Harris poses with a plane
Lt. Gen. Stayce Harris has flown more than 2,500 hours in military aircraft. (Photo/Courtesy of U.S. Air Force)

Among the attendees was Air Force Lt. Gen. Stayce Harris, an engineering alumna and retired three-star general. Harris is the first Black American female to hold that rank.

The most senior veteran in the room was 97-year-old double Trojan Yoshio Nakamura, who served in the famed 442nd Regimental Combat Team during World War II.

Keynote speaker retired Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Charles F. Bolden, an honorary USC trustee who earned his master’s degree at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, was the first Black leader to head NASA on a permanent basis.

“This is a powerful gathering of people,” Bolden said. “What makes our military so much better than any other military in the world is our diversity. We have diversity of ideas, diversity of thought, diversity of culture.”

A leader known for humility, Bolden gave simple and straightforward advice to younger service members headed for continued military service and civilian careers.

“Take care of the people,” Bolden said. “You’re not their boss. You’re not their friend. You’re their protector. Take care of your people and they will take care of you.”