Tech ROTC leader retires

HOUGHTON – U.S. Army Lt. Col. James Spence, Army ROTC leader at Michigan Technological University, was honored with a special retirement ceremony Thursday.

The 45-year-old was commissioned at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1989, serving in Army Special Forces around the world and serving as a professor of military science at Michigan Tech since 2009.

“I’ve had some tremendous opportunities to work with some phenomenal students,” Spence said in a Daily Mining Gazette interview. “The cadets are energetic, driven … in general a very committed, dedicated group.

“It’s been a great stable four years at Tech. I’ll be staying in the area.”

It’s the lack of stability with the military lifestyle in part that led to his decision to retire, and his two children Allison and Nathan Spence were given certificates at Thursday’s ceremony for the sacrifices they’ve made as children of a military father.

Spence, originally from the Chicago area, likes the combination of outdoor lifestyle, the university life and the businesses in the Copper Country. His kids will remain in the Public Schools of Calumet, Laurium & Keweenaw.

“In many ways it has a great small-town feel, but it still has great opportunities,” he said.

He will still be around Tech for another month or so, wrapping up some paperwork, and then will work on some private opportunities, which are yet to be firmed up.

Dozens of people attended the ceremony in his honor Thursday afternoon in the ROTC building gymnasium at Tech.

“I’ve been told today is about me, but I’ve just been fortunate to play a small part on the largest varsity team in America, in what cannot be called sport,” Spence said during his remarks Thursday. “For me today is about thanking many people.”

He presented gifts to his family during the ceremony, but several gifts and honors were presented to him as well, including a Legion of Merit award for “exceptional meritorious service in positions of increasing responsibility,” a presidential letter of appreciation and a shadowbox with a flag and array of military awards.

“He’s a committed, passionate officer, and let me just tell you, he has got an absolute winning attitude,” said Col. Dean Shultis, 3rd Brigade commander and guest speaker Thursday. “Everything he does, everything this school does, has that winning attitude infused in it.

“… When you think about what our nation has accomplished against our enemy, we talk about it all the time, we hear about it on the news … but it’s great to able to stand in front of somebody who actually made a difference, who has actually been at the tip of the spear taking the fight to the enemy and keeping our nation safe.”

Spence has served in Afghanistan, the Republic of Korea, Fort Lewis in Washington and Hawaii, among other locations during his 24-year career.

“You’ve been a heck of a good professor of military science, a heck of a good soldier, a great role model … and I consider you a friend,” Shultis said. “(Whatever he does next) Jim is going to find a way to be successful with that same spirit, tenacity and vast common sense that I’ve come to rely on at Michigan Tech.”