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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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‘A remarkable window into the Spirit of Aggieland’

Photo by Photo by Robert O’Brien

Samuel Gentry, son of Jason Robert Gentry, holds a candle during Muster, a ceremony held every year to honor the passing of current and former TAMU students, in Reed Arena on Thursday, April 21, 2022.

For the first time in two years, the campus community gathered together in Reed Arena to answer “Here” for fallen Aggies during the 2022 Campus Muster ceremony. 
Held each year on April 21, Muster celebrates and remembers the lives of Aggies who have passed during the previous year leading up to the ceremony. Campus Muster welcomes current students, staff and faculty members to honor loved ones as well as the 50-year reunion class, this year being the Class of 1972. As the 116 absent were called, Aggies answered for individuals at all walks of life; from the Class of 2025 to the Class of 1946, the comrade answered “Here.”
Muster Committee chair Luke Thurman, an industrial distribution senior, opened the ceremony with a message to current students with sentiments about returning to an in-person Muster.
“I would like to especially welcome you back to Reed Arena. We’ve had a couple of years hiatus with 2020 being all online and a hybrid ceremony last year both in Reed Arena and in Kyle Field,” Thurman said. “Seeing you all here tonight brings me back to my freshman year experiencing Aggie Muster for the first time. Whether this is your first campus semester or last as a current student, I encourage you to embrace this evening and discover, or perhaps even rediscover, what it means to you to be an Aggie to our big, extended Aggie family.”
Addressing the families of the absent, Thurman said the campus community stands with them as they honor their loved ones and he hoped to remind them of the everlasting bond of Aggies.
“Our honored families know that you do not experience this loss alone. In fact, over 10,000 Aggies have joined us tonight, both in person and online, to show what love we have for you and your family. I hope that tonight some of the darkness that has entered your life will be replaced by the lighting of every candle here this evening,” Thurman said. “Tonight, we will acknowledge your loved one once more gone, but most certainly not forgotten. Above all else: Tonight we will experience the Aggie Spirit in its truest form, a form of the Spirit that can never be told.”
Emphasizing the bond among the Aggie family, university President M. Katherine Banks said Muster is a chance to share the loyalty of the Aggie Spirit with those who may be experiencing sadness or grief from loss.
“Muster [is] a time to remember those we’ve lost, and at the same time it is a chance to embrace what we share with all Aggies — past, present and future,” Banks said. “As we gather, so do Aggies around the world. It’s an inspiring reminder that we stand for something larger than ourselves. The loyalty to each other is a connection that binds all identities, always connected. No matter the place or circumstance, our loyalty compels, I hear, when the time comes. We will remember the departed as Aggies in the fullness of their lives, as part of our community and everything that gave them happiness and purpose.”
“From Howdy to Here,” Student Body President Natalie Parks recalled the journey of an Aggie from the start of their college experience until they leave the earth.
“The people we are honoring today started their Aggie experience with a ‘Howdy’ and they’re completing it with a ‘Here,’” Parks said. “But quite honestly, I’ve come to realize that there’s never truly an endpoint to your time as an Aggie, and this is a big piece of what Muster is about because even after a loved one’s physical presence has departed this earth, their memories, their names, their impacts in the many positive ways that they made people feel are going to be memorialized in our hearts and our minds forever.”
Since many students may have experienced their first Muster or may not have known someone on the roll call, Parks encouraged students to answer “Here” for each name called as they all deserve to be remembered for the Aggie they were.
“Even if you’re sitting in the audience, or you’re watching the live stream, and you don’t know the name of a single individual who is called this year, that doesn’t matter,” Parks said. “For that the name of each of those Aggies is one who deserves to be celebrated. Through your participation in this tradition, [each Aggie’s] name and memory will continue to be cherished. You know that they lived a life guided by the Aggie Core Values of Respect, Excellence, Leadership, Loyalty, Integrity and Selfless Service.”
Wanting to follow the footsteps of his father, keynote speaker and retired Air Force Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, dean of the Bush School of Government & Public Service, attended the United States Air Force Academy and served for over 40 years including as the associate director of Military Affairs at the CIA and the 20th United States Air Force Chief of Staff. Growing up in a family full of Aggies, Welsh said although he himself did not attend the university, he considers the Aggie family just as much as his own. 
“My dad was the first Aggie in our family — there are now 15 and counting — and his oldest son, the one who got away, speaking at Muster,” Welsh said. “I’m betting that he’s pretty proud tonight, and any day a kid can make his dad proud is a good day.”
Recalling growing up with his father who was a die-hard Aggie and in the Class of 1946, Welsh said his own love of A&M began from the first time he came to campus with his father when he was only six years old.
“He wanted me to start learning the traditions, wanted me to feel that spirit,” Welsh said. ”I’ve been in love with A&M ever since that day in 1960.”
With the passing of both his father and his sister, Class of 1986, Welsh said he has the utmost respect for Muster and said he finds much peace in the gathering of Aggies. 
“Dad told me when I was very young that Muster was at the very heart of what it meant to be an Aggie, and I’ve always believed that’s true,” Welsh said. “I’ve been to Muster in 12 different countries over the years —  the last was in Normandy, France, in 2019 with [my wife] Betty and a wonderful group of traveling Aggies — like many of you who have also lit candles and answered for Aggie friends in war zones a long, long way from Texas.”
Though he was not able to attend his father’s Muster ceremony in 2009, Welsh said he had a most impactful and unique Muster for his father through an unexpected presentation. While working for the CIA, Welsh said he had to travel to a combat zone on April 20, 2009, right when he was supposed to be attending the ceremony. 
After chatting with the soldiers he met while there, Welsh discovered one of the men was also an Aggie, who quickly recognized that Welsh was missing one of the most important parts of an Aggie’s journey — having someone answer “Here” on their behalf. To honor his father, the soldier secretly organized an intimate Muster ceremony for Welsh before departing for a mission, lighting a BIC lighter while calling for Col. Mark A. Welsh Jr. 
“I got a note from the guy who was with me to please meet them out of the compound at a certain time to just walk out,” Welsh said. “All of a sudden one of them extends his arm and he lights a BIC lighter, another one says, ‘Softly call the Muster.’ My Aggie friend says, ‘Col. Mark A Welsh Jr., Class of ‘46,’ and I answered for Dad.”
After having such a touching moment with a stranger, who quickly became a friend, Welsh said he was so thankful for the Aggie connection.
“For this outsider, Muster is a remarkable window into the Spirit of Aggieland. It’s also a wonderful time to reflect on why Texas A&M matters, why Aggies matter and what this ceremony tonight is really all about,” Welsh said. “Good universities make an impact on their students, on their cities, on their states, even on their country, but great universities stand for something — and this is a great university.” 
Over 500 class members and guests of the Class of 1972 gathered in Aggieland to celebrate with one another and remember the 407 classmates who have died since their time in college. Thurman welcomed the class back to College Station and said he hopes the current students have carried on the traditions in the ways they had hoped.
“This place has no doubt changed in looks, but I can promise you that the Aggie Spirit you nurtured during your time here 50 years ago is alive and well,” Thurman said. “It is an honor to be able to share in camaraderie with you on this day, and I hope that we have made you proud to return.”
Setting the stage for students, Parks reminded the campus community that just as they answer “Here” for the fallen during their time in college and at other Musters, they too will have someone answer for them.
“Today, we remember that our fallen are never forgotten. It is my hope that as you leave here later this evening, you leave with a sense of comfort and peace from the embrace of the Aggie Spirit which envelops us all tonight. Today, we choose to be united in solidarity in order to remember those who are no longer with us,” Park said. “Muster provides the opportunity to be there for the many members of our Aggie family, just as the same family will one day do for us.”

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