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Top Air Force Officer Introduces ‘Lifesaver’ Scholarship on UMD Campus

National AFROTC Award to Boost College Affordability for More Diverse Cadet Population

By Laura Cech

Air Force general gives remarks at podium

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. announces a new Air Force ROTC scholarship in remarks at UMD on Friday. Below, he greets Darryl Baker Jr., a Maryland cadet who attended the event.

Photos by John T. Consoli

The U.S. Air Force’s senior officer came to the University of Maryland today to introduce a new nationwide scholarship for Air Force ROTC cadets, including some UMD students who will begin benefiting immediately.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. announced that the scholarship will be named for Brig. Gen. Charles McGee, a highly decorated fighter pilot and member of the Tuskegee Airmen who died last year at the age of 102. The pioneering group of African American fliers staked a bold claim for equality in the U.S. military, and Air Force officials said the award will help close a funding gap and make college more affordable to a more diverse student population.

“This scholarship opens doors to cadets who have proven their talent, and their desire to serve. Today we honor General McGee and his legacy by providing scholarships to the next generation,” said Brown, the first Black service chief in U.S. military history. “General McGee and the Tuskegee Airman believed in hard work and preparation. No matter your circumstances, if you believe, you can achieve.”

The award will help students like William B. Fraher ‘24, an electrical engineering major at UMD planning to serve in the U.S. Space Force, who was grappling with the idea of taking out costly loans to finish college.

“To those of us who were struggling financially, it’s truly a lifesaver,” said Fraher. “When you're a cadet, you spend years working nonstop, very hard, and (until now, you) had no guarantee of financial support, so this scholarship is incredible news for cadets and their families.”

Air Force general shakes hands with a cadet

The Charles McGee Leadership Award provides a two-year tuition award of $18,000 per year to all Air Force ROTC cadets who demonstrate the ability and intent to accept a commission in the Air Force or Space Force. The scholarship can be converted into a housing benefit of up to $10,000 per year.

“ROTC programs play a vital role in shaping the leaders of tomorrow. At the University of Maryland, we are proud to offer a robust ROTC program that develops our students into well-rounded individuals who go on to serve their country and communities with distinction,” said UMD President Darryll J. Pines. “Expanding scholarships for cadets is a key aspect of this, as it allows them to focus on their education and development without the added stress of financial burden. This investment in ROTC is an investment into the future of our nation.”

The initiative marks a significant change in how the $110 million available nationally for ROTC scholarships is awarded. Historically, approximately 40% of cadets received scholarships, but few received aid in their junior and senior years. Now, 100% of all qualified cadets will receive a scholarship at some point in their cadet career—a guarantee designed to appeal to traditionally underrepresented college students.

The ceremony at Samuel Riggs IV Alumni Center announcing the new scholarship included not just ROTC commanders and cadets, but relatives of McGee, whose 30-year Air Force career encompassed service during World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. His two daughters addressed cadets, stressing how much their father believed in the next generation.

“He would say: ‘First of all, dream big.’ And then he would say, ‘Work hard,’” said his daughter Charlene McGee-Smith. “He would say, ‘Never give up. Stay with your goals.’ And finally he would tell you, ‘Help others along the way.’”

A cadet who spoke during the ceremony said the announcement takes away a key worry: “‘Am I going to be able to pay for school?’ I can focus on my classes,” said Cayla Williams, a junior at George Mason University studying sociology who is a member of Air Force ROTC Detachment 330 based at UMD.

Williams, who plans to become an intelligence officer, said that the ROTC program requires hard work and commitment. “In a way, this scholarship feels like the Air Force is saying, ‘We believe in you,’ and they’re helping make it possible for us to finish school.”

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