Demonstrating leadership and devotion to his alma mater and their son’s team, Chris and his wife Jeanne have made a gift of $40,000 for new construction and improvement of existing MMA baseball facilities, including upgrades to the baseball field and team seating. Their gift represents a desire to lead by example and support the MMA experience that had a profound impact on Chris’s life.
“I wouldn’t be who I am today without MMA,” Gentry says.
Chris Gentry credits the Academy’s top facilities, strong academics and a deep sense of family among the MMA Band of Brothers as part of the transformative experience. He also emphasizes that MMA’s military structure is key to the success that the Academy achieves with cadets.
Those outside looking in often don’t understand the unique opportunity that MMA presents for young people, according to Gentry. When he hears people say parents send their children to military school because they don’t want anything to do with them, he’s quick to correct that misconception. He explains the sacrifice that families make – and the reward received – when they send their boys to MMA.
“When you see what (your son) gets out of it, the return is worth it,” he says. “A 360° Education – That’s what they get there. They learn leadership by moving from follower to leader, and they become one of the few who understand what MMA brotherhood means.”
Chris was 14 years old when he arrived as a freshman at MMA from his family’s cattle ranch in rural Nebraska. He’d seen a brochure for the Academy but had never stepped foot on campus before. Aware of the limitations of the public school and their remote location in Nebraska, his family sought a private school environment to give the best education possible to Chris.
“I don’t know what I expected, but it was nothing I expected,” he says.
He recalls the first six weeks as filled with marching and drill as he learned what it means to be an MMA cadet.
“It was scary,” he admits about those first few weeks away from home. “But things got better from then on.”
For Eric, he knew that marching and drill would be part of MMA, but he says he didn’t realize the rest of what he would experience.
“I didn’t know about the academics or how much fun we would have,” Eric says. “I know MMA is helping me make better decisions and will lead to a better college and better opportunities for my future.”
Eric says he also appreciates the diversity he is experiencing at MMA as he makes friends from all over the world and learns about different cultures.
Watching Eric stand tall in MMA uniform today, Chris looks at the Academy with a renewed sense of pride. He says some things have changed since his own experience, and some things haven’t.
“The whole core of what MMA stands for is still there, even after the ups and downs of 130 years,” he says. “I believe in what they are doing.”
He sees improvements in the facilities, such as the Centennial Gymtorium, which MMA broke ground on during his senior year. Among new MMA traditions now in place, the Passing Through Ceremony — which marks the rite of passage as new boys become full members of the MMA Corps of Cadets — stands out for Chris and Jeanne as a particular bonding moment for them and Eric.
“Our son made a commitment, and as parents, we had made a commitment to him,” he says. “I can’t put into words what went through my heart that day.”
Supporting the Next Generation
More than 30 years after his graduation from MMA, Gentry still maintains strong ties with his MMA brothers. He encourages his fellow alumni to return to campus, see the advancements that have been made, and support the MMA experience for the next generation.
“Financial and emotional support, that’s where the alumni can step in,” he says. “Show you appreciate the Academy.”
He stresses the need to support MMA infrastructure and scholarships, so that financial situation does not keep any deserving young man from attending. He also emphasizes the importance of strong alumni representation at Homecoming each year – something he says makes a difference to the families of MMA cadets.
“When parents see proud alumni, that matters,” he says. “They see the brotherhood their son will share this legacy with.”
Brotherhood is the most important piece of MMA that Gentry, from his dual perspective as parent and alumnus, hopes Eric takes away from this experience.
“If he feels that love for the Academy, the brotherhood, the sense of loyalty … that’s what I hope he gets. You can’t explain it to anyone who isn’t part of the brotherhood,” Gentry says. “They won’t understand it unless they have slept in the barracks and been a cadet. For Eric, I knew I would be doing him an injustice if I didn’t give him that.”
Gentry’s desire to share that brotherhood experience is coming true.
“I can tell there are people here that I will be friends with for the rest of my life,” says Eric. “That’s the best part of MMA.”
As Eric and the rest of MMA baseball enter into their competitive spring season, that brotherhood comes together on the field, and as construction takes place in summer 2019 to upgrade their baseball facilities, his parents’ gift will become a tangible reminder of the MMA Band of Brothers’ legacy behind every cadet.
Note: Eric is a third-generation Gentry to attend MMA. In addition to following in his father’s footsteps, his great-uncle John M. Gentry graduated from the Academy in 1941.