The Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program at USD has a new commanding officer.
Lt. Col. Michelle Bunkers, a USD alumna, took the reins from Capt. Jerry Zevecke this August. Zevecke became the interim commanding officer after Lt. Col. Ross Nelson was selected to be a battalion commander at Fort Rucker in Alabama.
Bunkers is originally from Dell Rapids, S.D., and graduated from USD in 1993 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English. She said going into college, she wasn’t thinking about joining the Army, but decided to try out a Military Science 101 class her first year.
“It sounded like fun. It sounded like a unique opportunity. I never thought I would be here now and it turns out I really enjoyed it,” Bunkers said.
After graduating college, Bunkers stayed in the area until she volunteered for an overseas post in 1997. She was transferred to Germany where she served as a military intelligence officer in support of missions in Africa and Bosnia.
It was in Europe where she learned to ski and where she met her husband, a Green Beret special operations soldier.
“We met in Stuttgart, Germany, in an Irish Pub and that’s when he fell madly in love with me,” she joked.
After Germany, Bunkers served two tours of duty in Afghanistan and one tour in Iraq where she was a company commander. Bunkers said her time abroad helped her gain an appreciation for other cultures as well as her own country.
“You learn so much and you gain an appreciation for being an American and you just gain an appreciation for other cultures as well,” she said. “It was pretty fascinating.”
Last year, she applied to be a Professor of Military Science (PMS) and created her “wish list” of places she wanted to go. She said she might have been the only PMS to have USD on her list. Before being selected, she had to be evaluated by a selection board.
“When they do the board they look at your packet based on your experience, your leadership, your (evaluations) – kind of what you’ve done over your career.”
Even though her career has mostly been operational instead of in academics, she believes her background as an officer in military intelligence will help her teach cadets.
“That’s what ROTC or Cadet Command does. We develop leaders of character for service to our nation,” Bunkers said.
Master Sgt. Jason Clayton said the program was notified of Bunkers’ arrival in March. He said her experience as a USD ROTC cadet will be beneficial in training the country’s next generation of officers.
“She brings a lot of energy with her. I think she’s a really good role model for our cadets because she was in the same exact place they were,” Clayton said.
Cassie Donahoe, a senior at USD and a member of ROTC, said she’s looking forward to having Bunkers as a commanding officer.
“I think she’ll bring new ideas that maybe we haven’t thought about before so I think it will really improve the program,” Donahoe said.
Bunkers said she’s still in the accessing phase of her position and will decide if any changes need to be made to the program at a later date. As for now, she said she’s focused on building relationships and friendships with other people and programs at her old campus and is excited to see what the rest of the year brings.
“I got pretty lucky,” she said.
(Photo: Lieutenant Colonel Michelle Bunkers, a USD alumna, is the new commanding officer of the USD Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program. She has served at numerous posts including two tours of duty in Afghanistan and one tour in Iraq. Malachi Petersen / The Volante)