Western's ‘Battalion Mom’ retires after 28 years

Contact: Cindy Wagner

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Cris Obreiter has worked with six Western Michigan University presidents, seven deans, two departments and 11 military science and leadership chairs. She has watched nearly 500 Western cadets become second lieutenants and witnessed the pinning of two Army generals who are Bronco alumni.

Through it all, her positivity and commitment to service has influenced students—and watching those students’ lives unfold is her fondest memory.

In December, Obreiter, administrative assistant for the Department of Military Science and Leadership—Army ROTC, will retire from her 28-year career at Western, leaving a role where students dubbed her their “Battalion Mom” and that earned her multiple Make a Difference awards from the University.

With military personnel rotating in and out of the department on three- and four-year intervals, Obreiter was the main staff member with historical knowledge of systems and procedures at the University. She knew how to get things accomplished, who to talk to and the best approach to move projects forward in a large organization. 

“Cris was the program continuity. She was also able to explain why things were done the way they were. She made sure that the military cadre was connected with the rest of the University,” says retired Lieutenant Colonel Brett Johnson, who worked as the recruiting officer with Obreiter for 13 years.

For Obreiter, understanding how to get things done was an important part of her job, but her favorite memories are of cadets. Through the years, they came to Obreiter to talk through their lives. It wasn’t all just about academics either, but questions about life, too. Were they enrolled in too many classes? Should they get married now or after graduation? She tried to teach them to have a “Plan B” and that opportunity is something you make.

“I guess being the Battalion Mom that the cadets could come talk to has been my favorite part of my job,” says Obreiter, who stays in touch with most cadets—keeping track of promotions, marriages, births and deaths.

“I remember which students brought me cookies, those who shared plants with me from their gardens, and those who sent me flowers as a thank you for just listening and being there for them,” recalls Obreiter. “Part of my garden at home is filled with flowers from the students. When they bloom, I smile because I can still remember the student and why they gave it to me.”

As the administrative assistant for the Army ROTC program, Obreiter not only oversaw program management and its 150 cadets, but many across campus remember her leadership of the WMU blood drive and a food drive in support of WMU’s Invisible Need Project. Both a testament to her commitment to service.

“I just finished up a blood drive, bringing my drive total to 1,853 pints of blood collected during my time in the department,” says Obreiter. “My time at WMU has been an awesome chapter in my life, but it’s time to start writing the next one. I have grandbabies I want to spoil, nieces and nephews who I haven’t met yet, and there is that whole travel thing. I have an empty nest and a valid passport.”

There is no doubt that after her time at Western, Obreiter has a huge extended family.

“Cris saw cadets as the reason for her work, not an interruption of her work,” says Johnson. “She helped bind students to WMU, and after they left they would keep her up to date with where they were and what was going on in their lives, both personally and professionally.”

Whatever that next chapter brings, her connection with the Bronco Battalion serves as a huge reminder of what to cherish most in life.

“I love the fact that the cadets are not only a part of my family, but I am part of theirs, too,” she says.

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