By Philip Walzer

Lt. Col. Brandon Shah ’07 returned to Old Dominion University in the summer of 2022 to lead the Army ROTC Monarch Battalion, where he had served as a student 17 years before.

Since then, enrollment in ODU’s Army ROTC has increased nearly 50% – from 95 to nearly 140. What Shah values just as much as the overall growth are the individual moments “when the light bulb comes on, when they turn from being a student into being a soldier-leader.”

Shah, professor of military science and department chair, often sees those transformations in his Transition to Lieutenant class. “They find their place in life at ODU before they graduate. You can see that gradual shift in commitment to the Army profession.”

Shah was named to the Alumni Association’s 40 Under 40 class earlier this year.

He enlisted in the Army in 2003 and enrolled at ODU in 2005. Shah received his Army commission and graduated in 2007 with a bachelor’s degree in sociology.

He recalled the influence of Karen Polonko, University Professor emerita of sociology and criminal justice who died in 2016. “Her expectations academically were just as high as the expectations from Army ROTC.”

He fulfilled his dream to be an Army pilot, flying an AH64 Apache over Iraq, Afghanistan and Eastern Europe during Operations Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom and Atlantic Resolve. Shah logged more than 1,200 hours, 600 of them on combat missions, in three aircraft.

In his last position before joining ODU, he served as director of operations for the 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade in Savannah, Georgia, overseeing day-to-day operations, training, modernization and long-range plans.

The military, he said, “has given me a lot of opportunities. I’ve lived on four continents, been on five. I love flying and being around people who like to work.”

Shah has two more degrees: a master’s in engineering management from the University of Kansas and an M.B.A. from the University of Georgia, focusing on marketing, organizational behavior and operations.

All his degrees, Shah said, prepared him for every step in his military career, including his position at Old Dominion.

“We’re a people-based organization with the goal to win,” he said. “Running the Army and a business is one and the same; that’s why we fall under the Strome College of Business. In aviation, you look at the product. You’re managing a budget so you’re not overflying. There’s a high return on investment, but you want to safeguard taxpayers’ money.”

For Shah, the offer to serve as commanding officer of the region’s largest Army ROTC battalion provided an opportunity to return to his roots.

With increasing ROTC participation will come a rise in commissions, he said. Shah attributes the heightened interest to several factors, including an enhanced website, increased promotion by the Office of Admissions and the return of the campus rappelling exercise.

The rappelling event, held on the side of S.B. Ballard Stadium starting in 1969, was stopped in 2017 to make way for the renovation of the stadium. Shah helped reinstitute it last spring, and it will occur again on Nov. 9. Anyone interested can participate. “For the larger community, it shows our campus presence – the integration of faculty, staff and participants,” he said.

In addition, “our students are now part of our recruiting. Every Activities Hour, they’re in Webb Center.”

They’re also at University activities and games and serve as ushers at events sponsored by President Brian O. Hemphill, Ph.D.

At ROTC, he said, “We do in one office everything the University does: We recruit. We train. We educate. We develop.”