Not every student gets the honor of accompanying the highest ranking cadet on campus to class. Dara Qualter, a junior cadet studying biological sciences, gets to spend every day with him, and she also gets to practice his high fives too. Cadet Brig. Gen. Growley “Tank” II may be the smallest cadet, but he packs in a lot of spirit. He attends events like the Oak Lane Trick-or-Treating, alumni fundraisers and can even give campus tours.
The official Corp of Cadets mascot program has been a part of Virginia Tech since 2016. An integral aspect of the university, Growley’s energetic presence and loving demeanor help bridge the gap between the civilian and Corps sides of campus. One of his most important, but unofficial, duties is linking the military and civilian sides of the university. Especially during COVID-19, students have been feeling even more divided and lonely, missing the many events that augment the Tech experience. Growley and the handling team strive to change that, one Instagram post or tail wag at a time. He can be routinely seen posing with students, Virginia Tech landmarks and important visitors on his Instagram, @vtgrowley. His social media account strives to “bring a little fun and cuteness to everyone’s day,” Qualter said.
He has been especially impactful on the newest members of the Corps of Cadets, as freshmen adjust to college life and the extra responsibilities that come with the Corps.
“Having Growley in the Corps represents more than just a dog. For many of us, he serves to fill the times we miss our own pets at home,” said freshman cadet Christian Ceol, a national security and foreign affairs major in Army ROTC. “He is also a great example of some of the foundations of the Corps: training, companionship, loyalty and service. Growley serves every member of the Corps by being such a good boy.”
Haydn Miller, a freshman chemistry major in Naval ROTC, got to learn more about the handling program and play tug-of-war with Growley in his dorm halls.
“With the busy schedule I have … I find myself struggling to stay happy. I was deep in the books and heard a clinking collar running down the hall. It was Growley,” Miller said. “Not only did this visit give me the serotonin boost I needed to push me through the week, but I was also able to figure out how to join the Growley team next semester.”
The freshmen cadets have had fun getting to meet the famous mascot, as playing with him is a perfect stress reliever and a reminder of their value here at Virginia Tech.
Keeping up with Growley, however, is not an easy feat. Growley’s dedicated team goes through a rigorous application process, and the handlers rotate duties throughout the week. Not all of the team will necessarily study animals after college, but they join for the genuine passion for the community and the desire to unite the university.
Handler Michael McCord, a junior criminology and sociology major, sees working with Growley as a chance to prepare for a potential job in law enforcement and to refine his leadership skills.
“My favorite activity to do is play fetch with Growley on the Drillfield,” McCord said. “He’s so full of energy and always ends up adding a couple people to the game.”
McCord loves working with Growley for the deeper involvement in the university. Alexandra Koler, a junior handler majoring in meteorology, loves getting to meet so many people through the program that she would not have elsewhere. Growley opens so many new doors for a cadet looking to expand their horizons, and she also appreciates the companionship that comes from the handling team. The handlers routinely train or accompany Growley together, and many describe the team as one of their favorite parts of their Virginia Tech experience.
Because of Growley’s strong presence around campus, the Corps of Cadets’ support is felt even more throughout Blacksburg. He is another way the cadets give back to the school and the greater Blacksburg community. If you want to support the Growley program, look out for new “Tank” top and T-shirt designs coming to the bookstore in spring 2021. Part of the proceeds benefit the Humane Society, a cause near and dear to the Growley program. If you happen to spot him on campus, be sure to stop and give him some love.