Lt. Col. Keith Ensley

For Lt. Col. Ensley, reinstating ROTC was a labor of love

When Lt. Col. Keith Ensley led the mission to restart the Reserve Officer Training Corps program at what is now Southern Oregon University in Ashland, he recalled an uphill battle at the outset.

Not because of any resistance from the university but because of the red tape involved, he noted.

"But the whole idea of producing an Army officer from SOU was definitely a challenge," said the Oregon Army National Guard officer and Afghanistan War veteran who was teaching military science at the university.

"If you had asked me about our chances in September of 2009, I wouldn't have been very optimistic — we weren't getting any traction," he added.

But Ensley, a former Army enlisted soldier who is a 1991 ROTC graduate of James Madison University in Virginia with a master's degree in engineering from the University of Missouri, persevered.

"I knew the demographics couldn't be any better for this," he said. "SOU was very good to work with. And many of the kids are from Southern Oregon and Northern California, so they aren't afraid of the military. I knew the ground would be fertile if we could get it installed."

Much of the challenge involved working out a memorandum of understanding with the University of Oregon, the parent ROTC program for SOU, and other factions, he said.

"Getting everyone together in agreement took about nine months," he said, adding he made three separate presentations to the SOU faculty.

In early December 2009, Ensley announced three two-year ROTC scholarships to SOU students Thomas Blaser, Justin Neville and Owen Lee, marking the first since 1993. The three students are graduating June 17.

"It has grown from zero to 31 cadets in 18 months," Ensley said. "We're very excited about that. It's great to see it all come together."

SOU may have a liberal reputation, but Ensley said that was never a concern.

"We've been extremely well-received," he said. "If you come in with the approach you are on campus but don't have to respect the values, then you'll only run afoul. We didn't want to do that.

"We felt there was no reason we couldn't support the objectives and values of the university while producing ROTC cadets," he added.

A native of Washington, D.C., Ensley, 46, will retire from the military on June 23, six days after the university's first ROTC graduation in nearly 20 years.

"I love the ROTC — that's why I wanted to get it here," he said. "It fits into the college lifestyle. You have four years of ROTC so you get to apply your leadership lessons as you go.

"By the time you are a senior, you are running the program," he added. "When you walk out you already have the leadership experience."

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email him at

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