By Pam Hersh
I am in a daze over all the celebratory days that exist among the 59 days that make up February and March. Every day marks a different celebration – ranging from the big name holidays – Valentine’s, Ground Hog, Presidents, St. Patrick’s, and sometimes Easter and Passover, to a slew of “raising-awareness days” for serious advocacy causes like Rare Disease Day to less than serious causes of National Tater Tot Day and National Banana Cream Pie Day.
I love tater tots and banana cream pie, but I was most thrilled with my discovery of Hug a G.I. Day on March 4. Even though no one is hugging anyone these days, the Hug a G.I. Day represents an opportunity to celebrate more often than just twice a year (Memorial Day and Veterans Day) men and women who are serving or have served in the military.
I would be willing to bet that all readers of this column – except for one Princetonian – marched past March 4 (get it – “marching forth” as soldiers do) without knowing they were supposed to hug a G.I. virtually or in reality. Many people this year were obsessed with March 4 as a cult-inspired alternate reality Presidential Inauguration Day. But Princeton native Spencer Reynolds celebrated March 4 by doing what he does 365 days per year – providing support and friendship to hundreds of G.I.s mostly in the Princeton area and in some cases throughout the world. And I hope that Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Spencer Reynolds, who served in Bosnia and Iraq, got his share of hugs on March 4 from his wife and four children.
What makes LTC Reynolds so deserving of lots of hugs is that when he left active duty, he embraced a volunteer duty of serving his G.I. brothers and sisters as a tireless advocate. Describing the remarkable career of LTC Reynolds requires three bios – military, civilian and volunteer advocacy – all intertwined with one another and with Princeton being the geographic thread that binds them together.
Born at Princeton Medical Center (now Penn Medicine Princeton Health), Spencer attended Princeton public schools and graduated high school in 1987. Staying close to home, he attended Princeton University on an ROTC scholarship, and commissioned in Armor in the Regular Army upon his graduation in 1992. His first assignments were as M1A1 Abrams tank platoon leader and tank battalion logistics officer in the 1st Armored Division, Baumholder, Germany. During this period, he married Princetonian Abby Tate, a graduate of Yale University and the Georgetown School of Foreign Service. And, it should be of no surprise to anyone that Spencer and Abby met when they both volunteered for the Princeton First Aid and Rescue Squad.
After the deployment in Bosnia and the expiration of his initial service commitment, Spencer transferred to the Individual Ready Reserve, and attended the Yale School of Management, earning an MBA. Moving back to Princeton, he began a civilian career in pharmaceutical marketing and then in new drug development and worked for such companies as Bristol-Myers Squibb, Genzyme, and the European chemical company DSM. After Sept. 11, 2001, he returned to military service and joined the National Guard; he was deployed to Iraq as an operations officer and retired in 2020.
In his civilian career, since 2013 Spencer has worked in Princeton University’s Office of Corporate Engagement and Foundation Relations. Specifically, he works with campus partners to build Princeton University relationships with industry in the fields of the physical sciences and engineering.
But throughout the time of raising his children and working on his civilian career, Spencer has devoted any remaining spare time – he swore to me that he actually does get some sleep – to his advocacy and support for those who want to serve, who are currently serving, and who have served in the military.
Since 2000, Spencer has been on the board of the Alumni & Friends of Princeton ROTC. As Princeton University’s ROTC Reunions Chair since 2007, he organizes the university’s annual Veterans Day observance at the University Chapel.
He also is a founding board member of The Princeton Veterans Association (PVETS), born in 2018 for the purpose of engaging with a large number of Princeton alumni who have served in any branch of the military but who did not necessarily go through ROTC. PVETS seeks to broaden the understanding of military service and national security on campus through various educational and networking activities (for the time being, virtual). PVETS also hopes to offer mentoring for students and alumni, assistance in finding employment, and fundraising for scholarships.
And in case anyone doubted Spencer’s commitment to serving his fellow military services colleagues, in 2020 he became president of the Princeton Officers Society. Founded in the 1990s, the society is an association of currently serving and retired military officers living in the Princeton area – not necessarily affiliated with Princeton University. This group is primarily a dinner and speakers’ group that meets bimonthly (now virtually) with the goal of building community among and support for current and former military service members.
His passion for a desire to connect with his military colleagues is “uncomplicated,” Spencer said. He “simply” believes in the values of our democracy and therefore in the mission of a military whose role is to protect and strengthen those values. He also attributes his success in his civilian roles to the leadership and organizational training he received at ROTC and later on active duty in the military.
On March 1, I am sure many individuals were whooping it up to mark National Dadgum That’s Good Day, which ushers in a season of satisfying seasonings, cooking and overall good times. I propose a really great way to have a Good Day would be to celebrate March 10 as National “We Forgot to Hug a G.I. Day so Let’s Do It Now” Day.