Air Force Vet Gives Back and Stays Connected

Major General Ward '83 and Basant Kandel '16
Major General Joseph Ward, Jr. (CLAS) ’83 and Basant Kandel ’16. Photo courtesy of Major General Ward.

Major General Joseph S. Ward Jr.’s license plate says “UCONN 99,” a nod to one of UConn’s basketball championships.

His basement “man cave” is papered with UConn posters and other Husky memorabilia.

And he visits the Storrs campus at least once a year. He says there is no other place in the world that gives him a deeper sense of belonging and inner peace.

Ward (CLAS) ’83 has got to be one of UConn’s biggest fans. But even this was not quite enough for him—not enough to express his gratitude to the place he says prepared him well to begin his career as a military officer. So he has decided to give a scholarship every year to a cadet enrolled in UConn’s Air Force ROTC program where he got his start 32 years ago.

“It’s an opportunity for me to give back more than anything else,” he said. “It also serves as a catalyst to maintain my connectivity with the cadet corps and my alma mater. It’s a wonderful feeling being able to help others, especially those who want to serve our great nation,” he said.

Ward’s donation is part of the UConn Foundation’s Transform Lives initiative to raise $150 million for scholarships and fellowships. He is among the 494 new donors who gave toward scholarships in the past fiscal year. Ward says he hopes fellow Air Force ROTC graduates will donate as well to this wonderful cause.

“It is fantastic to see one of our Air Force ROTC distinguished graduates setting the example and giving back to the program to help the next generation of Air Force leaders,” said Kristopher E. Perry, director of UConn’s Office of Veterans Affairs and Military Programs.

Ward’s first scholarship went to Basant Kandel ’16, a promising young cadet majoring in physics who was selected as the Cadet Corps Commander for his senior year. Kandel said he is honored and privileged to have received a scholarship from a Major General whom he regards as a mentor.

“It is something that motivates me to improve myself every day,” Kandel said. “It drives me to go the extra mile, hoping one day I can be like the man who found me worthy of the scholarship.”

UConn’s Army and Air Force ROTC units have been on campus for more than 60 years. They have produced hundreds of commissioned officers who have served both in the active duty military and the Connecticut National Guard. Currently the Air Force ROTC program has about 50 cadets, Perry said.

Ward, who is originally from Groton, first came to UConn in the late 70s after he got a cold call from a UConn ROTC recruiter.

“He said ‘I see you are a mathematics major and you are doing fairly well. The Air Force is actively looking for individuals who have a background in mathematics,’ ” Ward said.

Ward wasn’t sure he wanted to join ROTC, but agreed to try it on a provisional basis. He went to basic training that summer.

“I just fell in love with putting on the uniform, the marching, the shooting. We did some flying. I enjoyed the camaraderie with my fellow cadets. It was a great fit for me right off the bat,” he said.

The ROTC program in those days was based in an airplane hangar near Jorgensen auditorium where the UConn Foundation sits today.

“It looked like a giant Quonset hut. It had a concrete pad and it was a great place to practice marching,” he said. “Classes took place there too; we learned about military history.”

He majored in economics, joined the Zeta Psi fraternity, and became lifelong buddies with several cadets in his class.

After graduating, Ward was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Air Force. His first assignment was to serve as a budget analyst at the Air Force’s Electronic Systems Division at Hanscom Air Force Base in Massachusetts. He rose through ranks during the next 31 years to become a top-level military financial manager at the Pentagon. He retired as a two-star general in May from his job as deputy director of the Army Air Force Exchange Service headquartered in Dallas.

Life in the military wasn’t always easy, particularly for his two sons as the family moved 15 times over the last 30 years. Luckily, his wife, Jennifer, grew up in a military family so she knew what to expect, he said. They now live in Haymarket, Va., in the suburban Washington, DC area, where they intend to stay.

Though he retired from the Air Force, Ward is not ready to stop working. He recently started a new career as a senior managing consultant with IBM assigned to the federal sector. His job is to help implement organizational effectiveness and change management practices.

As he moves forward, Ward is committed to preserving his legacy through his scholarship, hoping to have positive impact on others.

The Transform Lives scholarship initiative has raised $16.3 million for scholarships and fellowships in the 2015 fiscal year alone, bringing the total to $38.1 million so far.