In 2019, MSU welcomed a new department head of military science.
Colonel Toni Rieke is the first female to serve in this role, also known as MSU’s professor of military science.
She’s also the first former MSU varsity athlete in the post, and the first member of the MSU Athletics Hall of Fame to be in the job.
And, not surprisingly, she’s also the first head of MSU ROTC Bear Battalion to work as a volunteer assistant coach for the Bears’ softball staff.
In 60+ years, only two alumni have led MSU ROTC
The United States Army Reserve Officer Training Corps, or ROTC, has had a military science department on the Missouri State campus since 1952.
Of the 1,919 graduates who left MSU as Second Lieutenants, 14 of them have attained the rank of general during their Army careers.
More than 25 people have filled the post of professor of military science. Of that number, only two — now including Rieke — have been MSU graduates.
To be the head of MSU’s ROTC, you must be a Lieutenant Colonel. That’s the rank Rieke had when she arrived on campus last summer.
She has since been selected for full Colonel. She traded her silver oak leaves for the eagle collar devices of her new rank in ceremonies March 9 at Fort Leonard Wood.
Missouri State is “the foundation of who I am”
Rieke first joined the Army at 17.
“I realized I wanted to become a leader and go to college.”
She earned an Army ROTC four-year scholarship. That allowed her to attend Missouri State, her first-choice college, for her bachelor’s degree in physical education.
“ROTC provided a leadership foundation, but also allowed me to walk on to the MSU softball team. So, I was kind of a dual athlete, doing both ROTC and softball.”
It means a lot to her to be back as head of the program she was in as a student.
“It’s giving back to a school that has given me so much over the years. The foundation of who I am came from being here at Missouri State.”
She does see more female ROTC participants than when she was a cadet.
However, being the first female head of the department wasn’t her goal. She just wanted to come back to a program that meant a lot to her.
“I would say my Missouri Statement is giving back to MSU and being dedicated to teaching, coaching and mentoring cadets.”
Softball head coach: “It is such a blessing to have her back”
Rieke laughs when asked about her work helping coach softball, as that obviously falls outside her duties running the Bear Battalion.
“I had to get approval from the Army to help coach softball, and I also had to get the academic leadership to whom I answer here at the university to agree to it,” Rieke said.
She was a four-year starting catcher for MSU from 1993 to 1996.
During that time the coaching staff, ironically, included the same three coaches who guide the Bears in 2020: Head Coach Holly Hesse and Associate Head Coaches Beth Perine and Sue Frederick.
“Toni was a standout player for us from 1993 to 1996 and a volunteer assistant coach in 1997,” Hesse said. “Twenty-three years later, it is such a blessing to have her back with us as a volunteer assistant coach. Her military training brings a great deal of leadership, discipline and mental toughness training to our program. Our staff and our team are benefitting in numerous ways from her return to MSU softball.”
As a player, Rieke earned all-conference and all-region honors.
She also helped MSU to one Missouri Valley Conference regular season championship and one MVC tourney title and trip to the 1996 NCAA tournament.
Rieke batted .302 for her four seasons with MSU and was among the program’s all-time statistical leaders in half a dozen offensive categories when she graduated.
In 2017, Rieke was inducted into the MSU Athletics Hall of Fame.
“I didn’t know what to expect when I came back, but now that I’m here, I feel like I’m at home. It’s like I never left,” said Rieke, a native of Belle, Missouri. “To come back here and give back to the students who are going to go out and replace me is just a wonderful feeling.”
Rieke sees parallels between working with MSU softball players and ROTC cadets.
“My time here as a student in both programs has been what got me to where I am today. Both activities involve leadership, discipline and team-building.”