For nearly 40 years, Appalachian State University's ROTC program has produced quality leaders for the U.S. Army. Graduates earn the bar of a second lieutenant after developing self-discipline, physical stamina and poise, as well as organizational and motivational skills. Among the program's successful graduates is Brig. Gen. Edward M. Reeder Jr. '81.
As the commanding general of the U.S. Army Special Forces, Brig. Gen. Edward M. Reeder Jr. is responsible for more than 14,000 soldiers conducting special operations worldwide.
"In layman's terms, I command the Army's entire Green Beret forces," said Reeder, a 1981 graduate who is stationed at Fort Bragg, home of the Army Special Forces.
"My charter is to organize, equip, train, validate and deploy Special Forces in support of the U.S. special operations commander, geographic combatant commanders, American ambassadors and government agencies as directed," he said.
Reeder returned to Fort Bragg from his most recent deployment to Afghanistan this March. In addition to his duties as commander of Army Special Forces there, he was responsible for a contingent of Navy Seals, Marine special operators, and some coalition special forces from Canada, France, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan.
For those unfamiliar with the U.S. Army Special Forces, Reeder describes them as unconventional fighters who are masters at the application of warfare on the battlefield.
"When Special Forces operators come out of the initial training pipeline, we are geographically oriented to the world," he said.
"We all speak a second language and get cultural orientation and awareness of the area where we work. We will do multiple deployments around the world," said Reeder, who has deployed to Panama twice and to Afghanistan five times.
A Fayetteville native who was born at Fort Bragg, Reeder earned a Bachelor of Science degree in psychology at Appalachian. He was commissioned as an infantry officer through the university's ROTC program in 1981. Of his more than 28 years in the Army, Reeder has served 25 with Special Forces.
"When I graduated from Appalachian, I immediately entered the Army. I have not had another job since," said Reeder, the son of a career soldier.
"This is exactly what I wanted to do from about the age of 7, and I have stayed the course," he said.
Reeder took a momentous step on that course when he was promoted to his current position as brigadier general in February 2009—the promotion that landed him command of the entire Army Special Forces.
Within two hours of the ceremony at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla., Reeder deployed as commander of the Combined Forces Special Operations Component Command-Afghanistan in Kabul. As such he was responsible for all special operations in the country. It was his fifth deployment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan since 2002. All his time in service there has been as a commander.
According to Reeder, Army Special Forces units are located at every regional command base in Afghanistan—in areas of Taliban support and Taliban sanctuary. On a daily basis, they engage in what he describes as full-spectrum operations.
"Our men are very good at the direct action piece, which is removing significant Taliban mass formations and Taliban commanders," said Reeder. "They have removed more Taliban forces than the entire coalition forces combined," he said.
There is another side to Special Forces' efforts in Afghanistan that few people hear about: supporting medical treatment for Afghanis who would not otherwise receive general health care, and infrastructure and building projects.
"We're located at remote fire bases throughout the country. This allows us to interact with the people and provide a variety of services to them. In a 12-month rotation, we treat about 200,000 people," Reeder said.
"If you understand the culture in Afghanistan, you know that a man would have his livestock treated before his wife and kids," he said. "We have set up separate clinics for the women and children."
Special Forces operators also build about 200 schools a year in the Afghanistan countryside, and with the help of the United Arab Emirates they refurbish and/or build mosques.
"There's the ugly part of war that our guys are very good at—the killing and capturing. This is the goodness they do," said Reeder, who personally sponsors an orphanage in Kabul for 73 girls.
"Given the gravity of this job, being able to give back in some way is important to all of us," he said.
G.I. Jobs' 2011 Guide to Military Friendly Schools includes Appalachian in the top 15 percent of the nation's colleges, universities and trade schools that are doing the most to embrace America's military members and veterans as students. The guide was published in September.
This is the second year in a row Appalachian has made the list. Criteria include efforts to recruit and retain military and veteran students, results in recruiting military and veteran students and academic accreditations. More than 250 students applied for VA education benefits for Appalachian's 2010 fall semester.