Three graduating seniors received their first salutes as members of the U.S. military Saturday. In keeping with a tradition dating back to 1792, the newly commissioned officers responded by shaking the hand of the first soldier to salute them, passing them a silver dollar.
More than 100 family members, students, and faculty, as well as trustees and alumni, were witness to the ceremony, rich in history and tradition, at the joint officer commissioning in Moore Theater on June 8, in which an Army ROTC cadet and two Marine officer candidates took the oath as second lieutenants.
The three officers:
- Alexandra Crosswait ’19 will attend the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences before serving as a physician in the Army.
- Frederick Polak ’19 will report, after graduation, to the U.S. Marine Corps Basic School in Quantico, Va., to complete six months of training. He hopes to serve in either the infantry or the intelligence field.
- Austen Robinson ’19 will report this September to the U.S. Marine Corps Basic School in Quantico, Va., to complete six months of additional Marine Corps officer training.
The ceremony began with U.S. Army Capt. Susan Redwine, head of the Dartmouth ROTC program, along with Marine Corps Major Zachary Bennett, asking those in attendance to stand for the national anthem, as cadets Crosswait, Polak and Robinson, clad in full-dress uniforms, marched to center stage and lined up at attention as the anthem played.
After calling “attention to orders,” Redwine administered the oath, commissioning Crosswait as a second lieutenant in the Army, and Bennett read the oath commissioning Polak and Robinson as second lieutenants in the Marines. Bennet then invited the families and friends of the cadets to pin the insignia of their new rank on their shoulders and introduced the new second lieutenants to the cheering crowd.
Following the commissioning, the new officers were greeted by Dartmouth Trustee Nate Fick ’99, CEO of the cyber security company Endgame, who served as a Marine Corps officer in Afghanistan and Iraq. Fick, who was himself commissioned as a Marine second lieutenant in 1999, hours after receiving his Dartmouth diploma, thanked the three new officers for their service.
“The journalist Rick Atkinson wrote a wonderful book about West Point called The Long Grey Line. Make no mistake, you three are joining what we might call the ‘long green line,’ ” Fick said, noting the long history of Dartmouth graduates in the military, from revolutionary times to the present.
Seventy-three Dartmouth alumni served in the Civil War, and 3,407 served in World War I, Fick said. During and after World War II, the numbers grew beyond tracking. “And the Class of 1969 graduated into the teeth of the Vietnam war,” Fick said, noting that several members of that class, returning to Dartmouth for their 50th reunion, were in attendance at the ceremony.
Commissioned rank carries legal authority, but it is moral authority that makes an outstanding officer, Fick told the graduates. The principle of leading by example is best represented by the phrase “officers eat last,” he said.
Fick then introduced President Emeritus James Wright as a fellow Marine who has been a dedicated advocate for veterans at Dartmouth and beyond.
Wright thanked the three new officers for joining the long line of Dartmouth men and women who have served, from the Continental Army to the “celebrated shores of Tripoli,” to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. “You stand out among your classmates by that action and by that pledge. Yours is not a promissory note. Instead, it is a commitment publicly and personally embraced,” he said.
Wright, the Eleazar Wheelock Professor of History Emeritus, also thanked the families for their service. He said that in researching his most recent book, Enduring Vietnam: An American Generation and Its War, he interviewed over 150 men and women who served in Vietnam, asking them how and why they went into the military. One man’s story of his parents’ opposition to his enlistment and his answer still echoes with him, Wright said.
“They asked why he would ever do such a thing when there were clearly options for him to be exempted or at least deferred,” Wright recalled. “He told his parents that they had brought him up to always step up to his responsibilities, to never shirk duty, and to try to make a difference. At that point his parents embraced him—and his decision.”
Before the close, Redwine introduced the ceremony of the first salute. In a tradition thought to trace back to colonial British regimental protocol, new officers were honor-bound to pass a coin to the first enlisted man who saluted them, she said. In 1792, Congress authorized that the tradition be observed with a silver dollar, and in 1816, officers’ pay included a silver dollar designated for this purpose, Redwine said.
“Whatever the origin of the silver dollar salute, it is a part of all soldiers’, sailors’, airmen’s, and Marines’ love of duty and respect for each other, and it strengthens their commitment and responsibility to serve their country,” she said.
Following the solemn first salutes, the ceremony ended with the singing of The Army Song, Anchors Away, and The Marines’ Hymn, as the second lieutenants stood at attention and the audience members rose to their feet.
The Dartmouth Class of 2019 Commissioned Officers
Alexandra Crosswait ’19—Army
Alexandra Crosswait grew up in Fairfax, Va. She received a four-year Army ROTC scholarship before matriculating at Dartmouth in the fall of 2015. Crosswait is a biology major modified with mathematics, with a global health minor. She is an EMT and primary care provider in Dartmouth EMS, and has held the positions of internal training officer, community training officer, and first aid and CPR instructor for Dartmouth EMS. This past summer, she attended a cultural understanding and leadership program in Uganda. After applying for and receiving an educational delay from the Army, as well as acceptances to medical schools, Crosswait will serving as a physician in the Army.
Frederick J. Polak ’19—Marines
Frederick Polak was born in London in 1996 to David and Sally Polak, and moved to the United States with his family in 1998. He grew up in Greenwich, Conn., with his three brothers, Tom, Harry, and Jamie. Polak was recruited to Dartmouth for lightweight rowing and majored in both history and economics. Throughout his time at Dartmouth, Polak was a brother in the Beta Alpha Omega fraternity, worked as a tour guide, was a member of the triathlon team, and did research in the history department with Associate Professor of History Edward Miller on the Vietnam War.
Austen Robinson ’19—Marines
Austen Robinson was born in Hong Kong to Mark and Lesley Robinson. Austen grew up overseas with his younger siblings, Gordon, Malcolm, and Gwen. He attended Harrow, a boarding school north of London, for high school. At Dartmouth, Robinson double majored in history, with an emphasis on early modern Europe and modern Japan, and government. Outside of Hanover, Robinson has worked in Dubai, Lyon, France, and Washington, D.C. Robinson is grateful to his parents and his grandfather, Paul Woodberry ’49, Tuck ’50, who served in the Air Force from 1951 to 1955, including as a reconnaissance navigator during the Korean War. Robinson would also like to thank all his friends who attended his commissioning ceremony. Without them, he says, he would not be who he is.
William Platt can be reached at email@example.com.