UNM Army ROTC Commander Departing at the End of May

May 24, 2021 - Dorene DiNaro

ChaeLTC Thomas Chae is departing as head of the UNM Army ROTC program at the end of the month, and it’s fair to say that his time with UNM was unique in many ways.  While employed at The University of New Mexico, Chae was promoted from Major to Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Army—an accomplishment 18 years in the making.  After he leaves UNM, he will continue his military service at Fort Sill, Okla. As the next stop along the way.

Chae worked at UNM for two years—over half of which was encompassed by the Coronavirus pandemic.  He had only been at the helm a little more than a year when the pandemic changed the UNM campus in many ways that were beyond the control of the administration, faculty, staff, and students.

“It wasn’t an easy time, but I appreciated the support and leadership from President Stokes on down,” he says. “The campus community stuck together and tried to make the best of what we had.”

Among other things, the pandemic stretched the limits of what the University and the program could do outside of the limits of a newly-imposed virtual reality. “It forced us to learn how to teach in a more dispersed and remote environment,” he says.

The entire University had to revise the way classes were taught, and staff had to figure out how to work remotely, all while making sure the needs of the students came first.  “We realized that we could be virtual for only so long, and we constantly had to adapt and challenge ourselves as faculty to ensure the cadets were getting the training and development they needed as future Army Officers,” Chae says.

The biggest changes that were implemented under Chae’s leadership was learning how to adapt.  “We came to realize that it’s okay if we don’t have the most optimal conditions to teach and train,” he says. 

He was particularly proud of the collaborative work between the Army ROTC cadets and faculty who strived to do as much as possible within the COVID restrictions. “We could have easily packed up and given up,” he says, “but we pushed through it and did the best we could given the conditions.”

Chae knows that the Army ROTC asks a lot of its cadets, but says the benefits, and the return on the time and effort they invest in the program is immeasurable.  “In most cases, the ROTC pays for some or all of a cadet’s college tuition,” he says. “It also sets them up for their future, whether in the Army or in life.”

Chae says that the University and our city will always hold a unique place in his heart, and he will remember his time here as a “once in a lifetime opportunity.”

“Working with the cadets on a daily basis was very rewarding and my chance to give back to the Army,” he says. “The cadets are future officers and having a chance to train and develop them was very fulfilling.” 

“UNM is a great place to work, and Albuquerque is a hidden gem,” he says. “My family and I have thoroughly loved being here and we will look fondly on our short time spent here.” 

Chae is leaving the UNM Army ROTC in capable hands as Major Jeff Meinders will the leadership reigns for the unit on June 1.  Meinders and Chae served together in Fort Carson, Colo. and formed a strong working relationship and respect for each other.  “As soon as I knew I was leaving, I reached out to him to see if he was interested and I am excited that he will be the department’s next leader,” he says.