Students You Should Know: Tom Madsen

"I came to college and wanted to do something I really liked, something challenging that wasn't a waste of my time."

Tom Madsen, a senior majoring in economics and political science, will become a familiar face as the year moves forward: Madsen represents the student body at the University of Northern Iowa for the 2013-14 academic year as student body president. In addition to his work in student government, he also spends a large amount of time preparing for life after UNI, which includes preparing for the United States Army.

Tom Madsen
Madsen is learning to balance his military duties, school and presidency this year.

"The military is something I've always wanted to do, even as a little kid," said Madsen. Beginning the first week of his freshman year, he attended UNI Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) events and physical training (PT) sessions. But heeding his mother's advice, he spent a year testing the waters before he officially joined his sophomore year. Interested cadets have until their junior year to sign a contract, but Madsen knew this was something he wanted to do.

Madsen will be the fourth in his family to graduate from UNI, but he credits part of his decision to become a Panther to his military interests. For a while, he considered attending the United States Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., but UNI offered a program that fit him better. He attributes the small size and national recognition of the ROTC program as the biggest draws.

The UNI Panther Battalion has roughly 20 to 25 cadets, about half of whom are contracted. Because of its size, each cadet gets more personal interaction with faculty and time in leadership roles. In 2010, the UNI ROTC program was recognized as the second best program in its brigade, which consists of 76 schools covering 10 states, topping both in-state rivals Iowa State University and the University of Iowa. This ranking is based on recruiting, commissioning and graduation rate, leadership development, and academics.

"The battalion is a close-knit group of people," said Madsen. "We spend every single morning and weekend with each other working out. We also find time to do things that aren't related to the military. We play laser tag, have Christmas parties and help each other study." Within the program, a mentoring system is set up to help foster this community, as more seasoned cadets act as mentors for newer cadets. "It's more than just that surface-level bonding that comes with a job. It becomes a real friendship over the years."

Although basic training isn't a requirement for ROTC cadets, it is an option, one that Madsen took full advantage of. "I wanted that full experience, so when I lead soldiers, they will understand that I went through the same stuff."

This summer Madsen attended the Leader Development and Assessment Course (LDAC) at Fort Lewis in Washington. The LDAC has long been the centerpiece of the U.S. Army ROTC program. The month-long course evaluated each cadet's skill in the field, culminating in a six-day simulated deployment. Madsen's LDAC performance, GPA and performance in his regular ROTC duties will create his ranking on the Order of Merit List (OML), which determines the type of job he qualifies for after graduation.

Madsen plans on going into infantry. "I went to basic as infantry, spending 17 weeks out in the woods and the mud, shooting and blowing stuff up," he said. "I just fell in love with it."

Balancing his military duties, school and now presidency isn't an easy task, but Madsen said the people around him make it easier. "I have a lot of people I can depend on. My vice president, Blake [Findley], is always there to help, and so are all my cabinet members. On the flip-side, with the ROTC, we might be a small program but everyone knows what they are doing and is highly qualified for the job."

Although his presidential duties started in April, Madsen said last semester was dedicated to ROTC, but after completing the LDAC his priorities are going to switch. "Both sides are very understanding of my commitments," he said. After college, Madsen will likely continue his military career. After retiring from the armed forces, he hopes to continue his political endeavors by pursuing a career in politics.

For more information about UNI ROTC, visit