University of Montana President Seth Bodnar, a former U.S. Army Green Beret and West Point valedictorian, was sworn in this week to the Montana Army National Guard.
"Since I left active duty in the U.S. Army, I've been a member of the U.S. Army Reserve, and I'm honored today to continue my service by transferring into the Montana National Guard and joining the long line of Montanans who have so bravely and selflessly served both our great state and this nation," Bodnar said in a statement.
Maj. Gen. Matthew Quinn swore Bodnar into service Tuesday, and in a news release Thursday, he announced "Maj. Seth Bodnar" as the Montana Guard's newest officer.
In a phone call, Master Sgt. Michael Touchette said Bodnar likely will be assigned to the Joint Force Headquarters, "not a highly deployable asset."
Bodnar took the helm of the Missoula flagship in January 2018. His path to the top post at an academic institution was unconventional, and it included corporate leadership and a robust military career; his resume includes numerous military awards, and it notes he was evaluated as "brilliant" for his assignment in Iraq under Generals David Petraeus and Raymond Odierno.
Thursday, other leaders at UM praised the president's decision to serve Montana and the country. Alex Butler, president of the Associated Students of the University of Montana, said it's "absolutely incredible" that a university president with a distinguished career in the military continues to serve his country.
"It's really admirable that he is willing to do something like that," Butler said.
Butler, himself a sergeant in the Montana Army National Guard, said he is especially inspired to see that someone as busy as the president chooses to serve. He believes other students who, like him, sometimes feel like their plates are too full will be encouraged by Bodnar's decision as well.
"Even some of the busiest people we know can make a commitment to their state and country, and he's an example of it," Butler said.
Shawn Grove, director of UM’s Veterans Education and Transition Office, estimated about 20 percent of the 500 students using a GI Bill to pay for school are connected to the National Guard. He said he would like to look at the historic records of the campus to see if there's any precedent for a president serving. "This might be history in the making," he said.
Grove, himself a member of the National Guard, said the change offers the president the ability to serve the country and remain in Montana at the same time. "You have that stability to stay in the state that you want to stay in yet still serve your country in a meaningful way," Grove said.
Bodnar has a high profile in Montana, and Touchette agreed his stature helps the National Guard.
"I think it shows the caliber of individuals that we're looking at getting into the Guard," Touchette said. "We want people who are educated, who can think, who are good leaders, and he has all of those traits."
Touchette said member responsibilities typically include drills the first weekend of the month and an annual training of a couple of weeks. "It's definitely a sacrifice for Guardsmen to give up that weekend and give it to their state, give it to their communities."
He said there are roughly 1,000 members with the Montana Air National Guard and about 2,600 with the Montana Army National Guard.
If Bodnar gets called to work on a natural disaster in Montana, Touchette said he'd probably be working in an administrative capacity out of Missoula, managing resources or planning missions or supporting logistics.
Montana has the second highest percentage of veterans among the 50 states, trailing only Alaska.
Last school year, Military Friendly honored UM with a gold award as a school that demonstrates "positive education outcomes for veterans and their families," according to a UM news release last January. UM also noted it was listed in the 2018 Guide to Top Colleges and Universities by the Military Advanced Education and Transition journal for service members and veterans.