Clarksville, TN – The Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) at Austin Peay State University (APSU) is celebrating its 50th year. To mark the occasion, each month through the end of the year, we’ll share one story of a Governor’s Guard alumni or former leader.
This month, we share the story of APSU alumnus retired Brig. Gen. Paul Bontrager.
Bontrager’s journey to becoming a brigadier general – and becoming the deputy commanding general of the 7th Infantry Division at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, in 2014 – took an unusual path.
He enlisted as an Army private in 1982, serving in the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. He joined with his parents’ permission after his junior year in high school in Goshen, Indiana.
“As a young soldier, I simply worked hard and said little, and things went well,” Bontrager told his hometown newspaper in 2014. “Frankly, the Army made sense. You got up early, worked hard, superior physical exertion was rewarded and we were expected to be driven by a higher calling — by a duty to serve others.”
After Bontrager married his wife, Kelly, in 1985, he left the Army, but with the intention to return as an officer. He entered the Austin Peay State University ROTC program while joining the National Guard to supplement his GI Bill benefits, according to a 2013 article in The Leaf-Chronicle.
“I asked permission from APSU to do a double load of classes,” he told the newspaper. “They said no, but fortunately that was before automation. I got around it by signing up for classes at Fort Campbell to go with my 18 hours of classes on main campus. I was taking 24-26 hours of classes every semester to get it done, worried about supporting my wife.”
Bontrager saved his best for the ROTC program, then run by Capt. Ted Crozier Jr., son of Clarksville’s mayor.
“The APSU ROTC program was off-the-charts good,” Bontrager told The Leaf-Chronicle. “It still is.”
In 1989, BG Bontrager completed his initial flight training and was assigned to 2nd Squadron, 17th Cavalry Regiment, Fort Campbell, Kentucky.
He has served in multiple locations in the United States and overseas. In 2006 he took command of the 7th Squadron, 17th Cavalry Regiment, Fort Campbell, Kentucky, where he commanded until 2008 when he returned to Fort Eustis, Virginia, to command the Flight Concepts Division.
He then commanded the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade at Fort Campbell from 2011-2013. He deployed to Afghanistan as the deputy commanding general for support at the 7th Infantry Division at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, in 2015.
He served as the deputy commanding general (rear) of the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, New York, from 2015-2016 before serving in U.S. Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, for two years. Since retiring from the Army, he has served as vice president at Sierra Nevada Corporation.
During his career as an Army officer, Bontrager earned Master of Science degrees from Kansas State University and from the National Defense University.