Mississippi Congressman Bennie Thompson was among attendees for the installation of the first woman commander of JSU’s Air Force ROTC, a ribbon-cutting ceremony for its new location and a surprise scholarship announcement for cadets.
Thompson called the ceremony a “watershed moment” after hearing incoming commander Lt. Col. Shander Adams praise her retiring predecessor Thursday inside the J.Y. Woodard building on the main campus where Detachment 006 is housed.
Adams, a JSU alum, thanked outgoing commander Lt. Col. Timothy Henderson for developing a “culture of excellence and for making my job easier.” She said, “I’m here to help future leaders who are focused on moral character, academic achievement and professionalism. We want to teach young people how to go out in the real world, survive and become productive citizens and successful leaders.”
The Gluckstadt native learned this week that she would become JSU’s first woman Air Force commander. Adams said she feels no pressure because “God has prepared me for this moment.” She said she hopes to become a role model for young women. “I actually want them to do better than I’m doing, even becoming general officers. If I teach them what I know to be successful, the sky is the limit. I just wish I had had somebody pull me to the side and tell me the secrets of life.”
After the transition of command, JSU President William B. Bynum Jr. saluted the leadership of both officers, declaring they have served well the university and the country. Bynum said all Americans should embrace our young people as they grow to become strong leaders.
“It’s times like these when I’m so thankful to be a citizen of this great country. And I’m so very, very blessed to be in the state of Mississippi and so thankful that I get to lead this outstanding university. … My family has a long, personal history of armed services,” he said.
In an extraordinary show of admiration and support for those seeking to become officers, Bynum said JSU will offer free room and board to scholarship recipients of the Air Force ROTC and Army ROTC.
Despite JSU’s fiscal challenges, Bynum said we owe this to individuals who are destined to go “beyond the call of duty, including possibly sacrificing their lives for the freedoms we get to enjoy in this country.”
Adams, the fifth child of 10 children, said she joined the military out of financial necessity after earning her bachelor’s degree from the University of Southern Mississippi. Upon enlisting, she was introduced to the core values of the Air Force. She left active duty four years later after the birth of a son and joined the Mississippi Air National Guard. The GI Bill enabled her to obtain her master’s degree from JSU. Later, she entered Officer Training School.
After she put off plans to retire in 2018, she sought a new deployment. Henderson paved her leadership path to the urban university by recruiting Adams to the JSU family a year ago.
A grateful Adams said she inherited a smooth-running organization from Henderson and vows to continue developing a diverse culture of excellence. “We will create successful leaders with a solid foundation and with a focus on service before self and excellence in all we do.”
Earlier, Henderson delivered an emotional farewell. He expressed confidence in his successor and told her she possessed the necessary skills to lead the detachment to higher heights. “I’ve seen your passion and enthusiasm,” he told her.
As for himself, Henderson said, “It’s been an amazing journey over the past couple of years. … All of my experiences, struggles and successes have culminated into the best assignment in my 24 years.” However, he explained that coming to JSU was drastically different than being in a 24/7 war-fighting command with special operations.
During his time at JSU, his focus turned to building the next generation of leaders and ensuring that expectations and standards were high for everyone regardless of race, gender or socioeconomic background. To cadets, he said he saw some part of him in each of them.
“Many days I bowed on my knees at my desk asking God to give me the wisdom to help them, realizing I was holding a life in my hand.” Because those young lives held onto every word, he explained that “it became a personal imperative to ensure that each cadet who entered these doors are challenged to think for themselves and be given the necessary tools to help them with decision-making.”
Over two years, Henderson said he’s observed cadets’ personal challenges, their sorrows and joys, spent long hours with them in urgent care and once consoled a student considering suicide. However, through it all, he said he’s been blessed by the impact they’ve had on his life. Fighting back tears, he told cadets “you have been my rock.”
After Henderson’s farewell address, the incoming commander told the audience that the Air Force is in a position to influence students and that she will aim to accomplish the goals of the command post to “the best of my ability.” As well, she said she’s thrilled to work with promising young adults at an HBCU that’s making a difference in their lives. “The Air Force needs more minorities. We’ve found good quality people here at JSU. This is like a diamond in the rough.”
Capping off his comments, JSU alum Thompson continued to lavish praise on Adams, saying, “Today is a great day for Jackson State University. It’s a great day for the state of Mississippi, too. I know you’ll do a good job.”
He also thanked JSU for producing exceptional service members. He said the HBCU’s talented cadets can match anyone in the world when given the resources and opportunities that are afforded to others.
Thompson said, “The military is the cavalry when all else fails. When state and local resources are overrun you must call the military to be a backstop, and JSU’s cadet training is equal to other institutions.”