University Relations and Communications

December 2, 2011



Capt. Janel Wiese, MSUB ROTC, 247-5735


Cut Bank native will be focus of first ROTC commissioning at MSUB in nearly two decades


Joel Grinder

MSU BILLINGS NEWS SERVICES — After two tours in Iraq as part of a tank crew, Joel Grinder has a sense of the military. On Friday, he’ll have a full sense of military history at Montana State University Billings.


Grinder, a 27-year-old native of Cut Bank and finishing his fourth year in the ROTC program at MSU Billings, will be commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army on Friday afternoon. The commissioning ceremony will be the first held on the Billings campus in nearly two decades.


The commissioning ceremony will be Friday, December 9 at 3 p.m. in the Lewis and Clark Room at the Student Union Building. Family, friends, university staff and others in the Reserve Officers Training Corps will be on hand to witness the event. Special guest speaker will be Brig. Gen. Joel Cusker, Montana Army National Guard Chief of Staff.


“I’m excited, but also a little nervous,” said Grinder, noting having a general in the audience makes things a little tense.

Tall and quietly confident, Grinder isn’t the first ROTC graduate to be commissioned since the program came back to MSU Billings in fall 2008. His commissioning, however, is the first to be held at the university after a nearly 20-year gap when ROTC was absent. In collaboration with the popular program at MSU in Bozeman and with coordination from faculty and staff at MSU Billings, nearly two dozen students are now a part of the healthy program.


Cadets have physical training three mornings a week and a ROTC class once a week, but otherwise they follow MSU Billings class schedule. The university has worked with the registrar's office to offer military science courses.


Offered at more than 270 campuses across the country, ROTC is longstanding leadership training program and serves as a college elective. Throughout their college careers, the cadets delve into everything from land navigation to convoy planning to troop leading procedures and other tasks. Scholarships help pay for college and students can enroll in ROTC for two years before having to sign a military contract. Cadets who chose to join the military can go to active duty or serve in the National Guard or Reserves.


Grinder, who served in the U.S. Army as part of a tank crew from 2004-2008, will now be assigned as a platoon leader in the Montana National Guard’s 443rd Signal Company.


Grinder tried college in 2003 after graduating high school in Cut Bank, but it didn’t quite fit at the time, he said. So he took a shot at the Army. He trained in Fort Stewart, Ga., and served with the 3rd Infantry Division and a tank brigade in Iraq. When he got out of active duty in 2008, he came to Billings and heard about the ROTC program.


“The Army kind of sticks with you,” he said. “So I thought I would give it a try.”


He completed the requirements for a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice in three years and is now doing some graduate studies in rehabilitation and mental health counseling at MSU Billings through its online program. He said his course of study is a good fit with his military science and leadership courses because of the on-the-scene problem solving that is often required of military leaders.


“What I saw in Iraq was in a way, we are in some policing-type situations,” he said. “And I knew when I got out and wanted to do something, my skills would look better with a degree.”  


He did an internship with state probation and parole office in Billings and turned his attention to graduate-level studies on rehabilitation and mental health counseling. Eventually, he said, he would like provide counseling to veterans. He is also engaged to be married.


In the meantime, he is concentrating on the details of Friday’s ceremony, from practicing his lines to making sure a silver dollar is ready for the traditional “silver dollar salute” with an non-commissioned Army friend. The military has a long-running tradition of presenting a dollar coin to the first enlisted member who gives the new officer a salute. According to history, the presentation of the coin symbolically acknowledges the receiving the respect due the new officer’s position. Others, however, say it symbolizes the fact that a newly commissioned officer has to buy his or her first salute… and earn them thereafter.


The importance is not lost on Grinder, who knows much is riding on the commissioning.


And when it is finished, he will be a part of MSU Billings history.



For more information on the ROTC program at MSU Billings, contact Capt. Janel Wiese at 247-5735, send an e-mail to or stop by the office on the fifth floor of McMullen Hall.



PHOTO ABOVE: Joel Grinder, a native of Cut Bank, will be commissioned as a Second Lieutenant Friday as part of an ROTC ceremony at MSU Billings. It will be the first commissioning ceremony at the university in nearly two decades and the first since the ROTC program was reinstated at MSUB in 2008.