By Rebecca Fiedler
This semester Col. Jim Parsons has taken the reins of the Baylor Air Force ROTC, applying over 30 years of military experience to lead the cadets in a new direction.
Every two years Baylor Air Force ROTC hires a new commander, and Parsons began his work this semester. Parsons said his job is not only to command, but also to prepare students.
“My sole purpose here besides commanding is to make sure the seniors who are getting ready to commission and go on active duty are ready to go on active duty,” he said.
Parsons said he won’t commission Air Force ROTC cadets until they are ready, and academics are important. If a cadet can’t graduate from Baylor, they can’t be commissioned by the Air Force ROTC. Parsons said the ROTC will thus allow cadets to miss ROTC events if there is a school-related conflict.
Parson focuses on training senior cadets to be leaders, though not all will make the cut, he said
“If they do everything right but they’re just not made for it, I won’t commission them,” Parsons said. “Even though they’ve done everything right, I just can’t do it.”
Parsons said he can tell by his interactions with cadets whether they are ready to be commissioned to the Air Force.
“It’s just not the best fit for everybody,” he said. “You could have the grades, you could have been in the program, scholarship or not – it doesn’t matter when it comes to that final cut that I make.”
Parsons said he governs differently than the previous commander of Baylor’s Air Force ROTC has.
“This is my freshman semester and I do things differently than the previous staff did,” he said. “So it was a little bit of turmoil and change for the cadets this semester, because I was new and I’ve been in [the military] a long time and I think I know how things should be done.”
Physical training is different this year, Parsons said. There is a minimum set of requirements in the Air Force for ROTC physical training. When Parsons saw that Baylor’s average physical training scores had been falling over the years, he wanted to change that. Parsons said he is focusing on having his cadets return to the basics of physical training like push-ups and running, as opposed to doing activities like playing ultimate Frisbee, as they have been accustomed.
“Our physical training score average for cadets was an 89,” he said. “Which, for cadets, that’s a pretty good number. However, that ranked 135th out of 145 schools. So, not so good.”
Parsons said he also demoted senior cadets in positions of leadership this semester. Two cadets had come to his office and were slouching and didn’t have military bearing, and another cadet in uniform approached him without salute and proper military address, Parsons said. There were too many occurrences like this for Parson’s liking, he said, and he decided the senior cadets weren’t where they needed to be as a group. Parsons said he punished many for the actions of the few, but saw it as a systemic problem.
“When I came in and I was teaching the seniors, they weren’t as far along as I thought they would be; as ready for the military,” Parsons said. “So I had to reel them back in on some things and get back to basics a little bit.”
Arlington sophomore and third class Air Force ROTC cadet Austin Hyde said he doesn’t know why Parsons demoted the seniors, but that he believes it is with good reason.
“He said they were not as prepared as he expected them to be,” Hyde said. “I think Colonel Parsons is really trying to do as much for them as possible. The thing with ROTC is, you’re not in the Air Force. You’re in an organization that mimics the Air Force, even if you contract. One of my favorite things that Parsons has done is he’s bridging the gap between this organization, which is not an Air Force organization technically, and Air Force preparedness – for the actual day-to-day 12 hour shift.”
Parsons said he has had complaints about things like physical training from cadets, but said this is what he believes has to be done, and that he can’t make everyone happy. Parsons said he is trying to accommodate the studying needs of cadets by adding afternoon sessions of physical training so that they don’t have to attend every morning session of physical training.
Parsons joined the military straight out of high school, serving as a weather forecaster and observer for the Air Force, and over the years moved up in rank with the Air Force weather support. Parsons served overseas in Operation Desert Shield and in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan. In Afghanistan Parsons was in charge of US/NATO weather support.
After returning from Afghanistan in 2010, Parsons worked for the Pentagon’s weather staff for one year. He was then made an executive officer for a general at the Pentagon for two more years until he came to Baylor this semester to serve as a detachment commander under the rank of colonel.
“I’m happy to be where I’m at,” Parsons said. “I really am.”
Parsons said his work in the weather field made his focus narrow, but that his time with the Pentagon broadened his military experience, and that it was the perfect segway for him to come and lead at Baylor.
“I got exposed to some really neat stuff, so when coming down here to teach the college kids, the cadets, I really have the big picture that I can tell them about, whereas a weather officer wouldn’t have that big picture,” he said.
The Air Force selects individuals to assign to one of 145 ROTC units across the nation for the rotation of the two-year detachment commander position. Each individual is to select five schools of their choice, and then is assigned to one of these five. Baylor was No. 2 on Parson’s list of preferences when he was up for placement, because he liked Baylor’s location. His parents live in Dallas and he’s never before been stationed in Texas in all 32 years of service with the Air Force, Parsons said.
“I like Waco. I love doing this kind of job,” Parsons said. “I love leading and commanding. This has nothing to do with weather, which I’ve been trained to do, and which they sent me back to get a masters degree in to do. But I think being up at the Pentagon was the perfect lead-in for being here, and my previous experience and deployments.”
Hyde said he likes Parsons.
“He is very kind,” Hyde said. “He has this really warm nature about him when you walk up to him. He looks you in the eye and smiles. He is also able to ‘turn it on’ – not in a harsh, cold way, but he goes from kindness to being firm and demoting the seniors because he knows they need that sort of discipline and that sort of drive against demotion to make them more prepared.”