BLACKSBURG – After overseeing multimillion-dollar facilities replacements, leading a much-needed expansion of leadership and administrative staff, and harnessing fundraising efforts to endow scholarships for Virginia Tech cadets over the past several years, Randal Fullhart has made another rather important strategic decision.
The commandant for Virginia Tech’s Corps of Cadets and a retired major general in the U.S. Air Force, Fullhart announced to his staff, the corps’ alumni boards, and the cadets last week that he will be retiring from his post on July 1, 2024 after 13 years in the role. That tenure will be the longest term of a commandant of cadets in corps history.
When Fullhart arrived in 2011, he put together a strategic plan that focused primarily on growth and enhanced leadership development. The official opening of the Corps Leadership and Military Science Building, which serves as the home for the commandant’s staff and includes both corps and ROTC offices, classrooms, museum, library, and training spaces, will take place place Friday at the Corps of Cadets Reunion and marks one of the final components of that plan.
“We’re coming to closure this year on almost all the major elements in that strategic plan,” Fullhart said. “I can’t say they’re all complete because you never complete trying to raise money for scholarships, and we’ve got a couple more people that we want to hire into new positions. But the buildings are done this year. We now have, with our third new residence hall, capacity for 1,400 cadets, which is what [Virginia Tech] President [Tim] Sands and I talked about as the right number for the corps as the university continued to grow. We’ve probably almost doubled the size of the staff.
“This institution is in a great place, and now I think it’s time to hand it off to a person who will carry that vision forward while adding their own.”
Fullhart decided to make his decision public now to give Virginia Tech officials ample time to name his replacement. He hopes to spend his final couple of months helping the new commandant during the transition period.
“Maj. Gen. Fullhart has dedicated more than a decade of service to Virginia Tech, advancing the mission of the Corps of Cadets as an administrator, instructor, and respected leader,” Sands said. “The university greatly appreciates his exceptional service. Under his oversight, the construction of new facilities on the Upper Quad, the growth of the cadet population, and the strong relationship with cadet alumni have been transformative and will serve the university well for the generations to come.”
Though he plans on retiring, the commandant doesn’t plan on slowing down himself. He views the next nine months as a sprint.
He said he delivered that message to his staff and to the cadets when announcing his retirement.
“I said, ‘I’m following my own advice that I give to senior cadets, or anybody else that’s coming up on some sort of a milestone, and that is you need to run through the tape,’” Fullhart said. “You don’t coast. You don’t start slowing down before you get to the finish line because the finish line is the starting line for what’s next. You want to hit that line at full speed and the momentum will actually launch you into your next endeavor, wherever and whatever that may be.
A native of Kansas who grew up on a farm in Indiana, Fullhart admittedly knew little about Virginia Tech and the Corps of Cadets following a 32-year career in the Air Force in which he retired as a major general. Knowing of his love for developing leaders, wife, Kathy, encouraged him to seek positions that he would consider a calling for developing such leaders. Not long after that, a mentor told him about the soon-to-be vacant commandant position at Virginia Tech, and at the end of the process, then President Charles Steger named him the 35th commandant of cadets.
Upon his arrival in Blacksburg, Fullhart and his staff, in partnership with the corps’ alumni boards, put together a strategic plan that called for a growth in cadet numbers, new residence halls for the cadets, the Corps Leadership and Military Science Building, and scholarships for all cadets. The size of the cadet population has grown from just over 950 when he started to 1,239 this year toward a goal of 1,400, the facilities upgrades are complete – built with private donations – and the campaign and fundraising efforts for increased financial aid for the cadets continue.
“It’s been a pleasure working closely with the commandant in my time here at Virginia Tech, and I have seen firsthand his dedication to elevating the reputation and accomplishments of the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets,” said Frances Keene, vice president for Student Affairs. “He has distinguished himself as an outstanding leader and always has served as a strong advocate for the cadets and his staff. I am grateful for his commitment to excellence, his program innovation, and his service to our university. I congratulate him on an outstanding career and wish him the best.”
Fullhart said that every move he made was to give the cadets the best possible chance at personal growth and career success.
“I feel very gratified thinking about all the cadets whom I’ve shaken hands with as they walk across the stage [at graduation], their next chapter and their next adventure ahead of them,” he said. “That’s ultimately why I wanted this type of work, to help equip young men and women who aspire to make a difference in the world.”
He continued, “All of this has been in the company of an amazing staff of dedicated professionals over these many years, including the amazing people in our Tailor Shop. They share equally in all that been accomplished and all that is in place to continue our success. And, that support extends across the entire university, from Student Affairs, athletics, facilities, all the academic deans and departments, right down to our favorite people who have become part of our family, housekeepers, dining staffs, and ground keepers. They are the heart and soul of the entire university and stand out as examples of what selfless service looks like.
“It’s gratifying to see the buildings, to know that facilities match the quality of the young men and women who aspire to come here. But you really measure success in the lives that you touch, and know that through them, others may be served as well. They will go out, and they will touch the lives of hundreds or thousands of other people. That, I think, is most gratifying.”
Fullhart credited his wife for being a great and amazing partner throughout his life and career. The two met in high school, were engaged as high school seniors, and got married two weeks after his commissioning. She traveled with him throughout a career that took them all over the world before landing in Blacksburg. Once in Blacksburg, she opened their home to numerous cadets and university leaders, as well as being a helpful resource to families.
“Now it’s time for us to go somewhere where she gets to choose,” Fullhart said. “We’re excited about that.”
The two of them plan to move to College Station, Texas, next summer to be near their son, who works in that area.
A national search for the next commandant will begin later this fall.
Katie Mallory for Virginia Tech