North Carolina native Maj. Gen. Edward M. Reeder Jr. '81 wanted to be just like his father—a hard worker with a moral compass "like none other," he said. His father was a command sergeant major in the Army.
"I've never ever wanted to do anything but be a soldier," Reeder said. "I had four goals when I got out of high school, and one was I wanted a quality education. Two: I wanted to play Division I football. Three: I wanted to go to a quality ROTC program. And four: I didn't want it to cost my parents any money."
Appalachian offered Reeder the opportunity to achieve those goals. He studied psychology, was offered a four-year football scholarship and was commissioned as an Army officer through Appalachian's ROTC program.
Reeder said he learned to be a critical thinker and an adaptive leader while at Appalachian. In his 31 years of service with the Army, he has commanded numerous Special Forces groups and battalions. Early in his career, Reeder distinguished himself by earning the U.S. Army Special Forces Tab and Green Beret, an accomplishment only one in 100 soldiers achieves. He is now the commanding general of the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School (SWCS), the Army's Special Operations Center of Excellence at Fort Bragg.
Reeder said when he was notified via phone that he was selected for the award he thought his Army friends were pranking him—but it was no prank.
"I was prouder of being the Distinguished Alumni of Appalachian State than I was being selected to be a general in the Army," Reeder said.
Major General Edward M. Reeder Jr. '81, 2013 Distinguished Alumni Award recipient: I grew up and was born at Fort Bragg, N.C., right here. I was raised in Fayetteville, N.C., right here. I am the son of a command sergeant major—hardest working man I ever met; had a moral compass like none other. Just a great guy. I've never, ever wanted to do anything but be a soldier. I will tell you that when I look at why I'm in the Army today it has nothing about being—serving this great nation, but everything about wanting to be just like my dad. My mom, she was the disciplinarian in the house. My mother expected excellence in the classroom everyday. And I have one older sister, a very bright, brilliant young lady—gave me great advice growing up and continues to give me great advice today, and is truly one of my best friends. But three great role models for me. I just had a great childhood. I had great friends here in town, so it's nice being here, assigned back to Fort Bragg, because I spend time with my Army friends, and then I also have my childhood friends here as well.
ER: I had four goals when I got out of high school and one was I wanted a quality education. Two: I wanted to play Division I football. Three: I wanted to go to a quality ROTC program, and four: I didn't want it to cost my parents any money. And Appalachian State offered me a four-year football scholarship so I absolutely took that. I fell in love with the school during the visit anyways, but it was just great to be able to go to App State. I think when I look back on my experience at Appalachian State, the real value was with the people. And, though, when I went up to visit the school, when I made a decision to go to App State, it really wasn't until you get there that you get the experience of dealing with the coaches, the faculty, as well as your—the students, where you really get the true value of Appalachian State.
(transition to music and military training scenes at the Special Warfare Center)
ER: I have been in the Operational Force, which means the combat rotation piece, my entire time in Special Forces. This is the first training job I've ever had. It is so complex, and it's so different from any other job that I have. The mission that I have here—that we have here—is to train, educate, develop and manage soldiers from not only Army Special Forces, but from the Civil Affairs in the psychological operations. But what we also do here is we develop the leaders. You know, that adaptive leader—all the analysis that goes into that, how you become a critical thinker, happens at the Special Warfare Center, the school. It is, 'how do we mold this guy to be a different kind of thinker?' It's amazing when you put him in a combat role, the things that he looks at. And that's the kind of guy that we want. We want a guy to solve problems, be an out-of-the-box thinker and be able to solve those complex problems because chances are, he's going to be out there all by himself.
(transition to music and panning scenes of military awards and status at the Special Warfare Center)
ER: But it really isn't until you become part of the regiment that you understand that it really is about people. This is a people business. We do a lot of humanitarian work and people don't realize that. We dig a lot of wells, we build a lot of schools, we build a lot of soccer fields, we run a lot of women's clinics. It's all under the radar; you never hear any of it. Do we have to do that? We don't have to do that, but it's just the right thing to do. But one of the things we did when I was on my last rotation as the commander of the Combined Forces Special Operations Component Command was we sponsored an orphanage in Kabul, and it was a girls orphanage. And in Afghanistan, if you've ever been there and experienced the culture, you'll quickly realize that it is a very much male dominated society. It's hard enough being a female; it is incredibly hard being a female without any parents. So we sponsored this girls orphanage—a great, great facility—in the middle of Kabul, and the U.S. Embassy is now involved in it and they did some great work after I left. There were some nonprofit organizations that are helping the girls become educated, and that's what we're trying to do because all we want to do is give them an opportunity, because without education they wouldn't have an opportunity.
ER: When I—when I think back on Appalachian, you know, I'll tell you—just a great place to grow up. My daughter went there for graduate school, and my other daughter wants to go there. So it's a part of our family for sure.
ER: I was a U.S. SOCOM, United States Special Operations Command, at a conference in Tampa, Fla., and I was talking to my wife at a break and she said, 'Hey we received—you received a voicemail from Chancellor Peacock and he said he had some really good news and that you were distinguished alumni for this year,' and I just chuckled to myself. And I told my wife, 'OK thank you.' And I am absolutely convinced that it's my childhood friends here in Fayetteville and it's a prank, so I called the number back and a lady answers and she says, 'Chancellor Peacock's office,' and I really thought to myself, man these guys have really put a lot into this. This is a really good prank. And so when the Chancellor got on the phone, you know, he told me that I had been selected. I just couldn't believe it because I think when you—you know, I look at all the alumni from Appalachian State and I can't tell you ... I'm just so, I'm so humbled by it. I told my family, I said you know, being selected for this, honestly, was—I was prouder of being the Distinguished Alumni of Appalachian State more so than I was being selected to be a general in the Army. I mean it was just ... it was just a real thrill.
North Carolina native Maj. Gen. Edward M. Reeder Jr. '81 wanted to be just like his father—a hard worker with a moral compass "like none other," he said.
His father was a command sergeant major in the Army.