COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP) — Gov. Rick Perry and his former Texas A&M classmate and now System Chancellor John Sharp welcomed the reactivation Friday of their old Corps of Cadets squadron.
Squadron 6 — known as "Savage Six Flying Tigers" — was one of two Aggie Corps squadrons brought back to life on the College Station campus, the result of growing student interest. The corps squadrons are the vestiges of the previously all-male school's military foundations.
Squadron 6 was disbanded in 1992 as corps membership slipped, but A&M officials say membership in the recent fall semester was 2,303 students — the highest in 15 years. So, for the second straight year, two former squadrons are being reactivated.
"I think what this university is about is service," Sharp said after ceremonies. "The kind of kids we have tend to gravitate toward an organization that is principally and foremost about service. And plus, just being in the corps is just special.
"It just works. It produces captains in industry and generals in the military."
Joe Ramirez, a retired brigadier general who is now commandant of the Corps of Cadets, credited efforts to emphasize, especially with parents, the corps' focus on academics and professionalism to prepare students "for today's very competitive environment."
About half the Corps members move on to join the armed forces. Squadron 6 is among about three-dozen corps companies at A&M, each comprising from about 35 to 65 cadets. Texas A&M is among the nation's largest universities, with about 50,000 undergraduate and graduate students combined.
"It is a relatively small percentage of the student population and civilian students are just as important and just as much Aggies," Perry said. "But the Corps of Cadets will always be perceived, and in reality, is the real heart and soul of Texas A&M."
In 1968, only a couple years after corps membership stopped being compulsory and women were admitted to the university, Perry and Sharp were among 58 freshman members of Squadron 6. By their senior year in 1972, Perry had been elected yell leader for the entire school and Sharp was student body president.
"I think you could say Texas A&M and Bryan-College Station was a little different from the rest of America and maybe a little different from other college campuses you would step foot on in the late 1960s and early '70s," Perry told several hundred people outside a museum devoted to the corps. "This is a place that changes lives forever."
Perry said that in the corps, "service and sacrifice became a very real value, a very real experience in my life — that being part of this brotherhood, this fraternity, this entity, was more than about yourself."
Fernando Aguilera, 23, an aerospace engineering senior originally from Santa Cruz, Bolivia, was given command of the reactivated squadron. Aguilera, who went to high school in Edinburg, said he "fell in love" with A&M when he first visited.
"They were something special," he said of the lure of the 137-year-old corps. "I wanted something more. I wanted something different from the regular university experience. It's best decision I've made in my life."
Perry told members of the squadron that they were "part of a legacy, a part of a history."
"It's good to see the Tiger flying again," he said, referring to the nickname the squadron adopted in 1964 in honor of World War II volunteers who served in China.
As squadron members past and present gathered for a group photo, Perry — forever the yell leader — lead the group in the unit cheer: "Savage Six, best damn outfit on campus!"