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Jason Cummins ’93 BE: Leading our future leaders

This article appears courtesy of the UK Alumni Association

We recently had the chance to catch up with Lt. Col. Jason Cummins ’93 BE. Cummins is currently chair of the military science program and UK Army ROTC program at the University of Kentucky. He has successfully made service to the country his lifelong career. He has served in Korea, Iraq and Afghanistan, and even managed to obtain an M.B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business and teach at the United States Military Academy. Now he spends his days performing a most important task at the University of Kentucky: leading our future leaders. Read below for some interesting insights from Cummins.

Do you have a favorite memory from your time as a student at the University of Kentucky?

The first involves a culminating training experience while participating in ROTC. Shortly before Christmas break of my sophomore year, we conducted an all-night training and evaluation exercise for the Kentucky Rangers organization. Cold, sleep-deprived, and hungry, I can remember lying in the middle of a patrol base asking myself, “What am I doing here?” Through perseverance, teamwork, and hard work, my peers and I pushed through the discomfort and ultimately earned our place within the organization. While definitely a non-traditional favorite memory, I have reflected and pulled from this shared hardship multiple times in the past 20 years. It was without a doubt a seminal experience for me on my personal leadership journey. 

The second is a bit more light-hearted and like many “favorite memories” from UK, involves our beloved Wildcats. I was a student during the “Pitino era”, and I was fortunate to witness our basketball resurgence, culminating during the season of The Unforgettables.  During the final game against Duke, a group of my closest friends and fraternity brothers gathered in our small, cramped residence. We all know the outcome, but the wide range of conflicting emotions experienced that evening, collectively with friends I love to this day, were largely representative of my overall college experience.  Highs, lows, fellowship, intensity, jubilation, and tears, yet all experienced together. 

How has the Army ROTC program changed from when you were a student to now?

I feel the impending call to real-world deployments has produced a heightened sense of preparation and a more focused training plan within the program. Moreover, our Army’s collective experiences over the past decade have improved the relevance and realism of our curriculum, while producing expert coaches, teachers, and mentors in the form of skilled officers and non-commissioned officers on our college campuses. We are no longer focused on simply teaching the answers, but rather teaching the critical thinking and problem solving skills to create the answers. 

How have your experiences as a soldier in places like Iraq and Afghanistan shaped your outlook on teaching a new generation of army officers?

My experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan have reinforced my commitment and passion for leader development. What we are currently asking our junior officers to do in combat requires a unique blend of skills. We need adaptive leaders with initiative and the ability to assess and analyze information, while also being able to solve complex problems in ambiguous situations. As we teach this new generation of Army officers, our learning must be meaningful, innovative, and challenging. We must link education, training, and self-development by providing our students the tools that promote continuous learning and growth, both in and out of formal instructional environments.

What are some things that excite you about the Army ROTC program?

I often tell people I have the best job in the Army. I work with an amazing team of professionals committed to teaching students how to relentlessly pursue their optimal potential through purposeful living and leading. Our students are talented scholars, athletes, and leaders, the majority of whom have raised their right hand to serve our great nation during a time of persistent conflict. That is personal courage. That is loyalty. That is selfless service. That is something worth celebrating, and I’m just blessed to be a part of it.