From Military Man to Fraternity Man

November 11, 2021 | A reflection by Phi Kappa Tau National Councilor Michael French, Kent State ’88

French with the Beta Mu chapter

My Journey to Phi Kappa Tau began in the Military. As a junior in High School, I was planning on going to college and was looking for help to pay for school, and at the time, the Ohio Army National Guard was offering free tuition to any state school. To add to my decision to join the Military, some of the Eagle Scouts from my Troop (who I later found out were also Phi Tau’s) were joining the Guard for the same reason.

Shortly after my 17th birthday, I enlisted in 838th MP Company stationed in Austintown, OH. I went to Basic Training in the summer between my Junior and Senior year in high school. After I came back and decided to attend Kent State, multiple members in my platoon said they were Phi Tau’s at either Kent or Youngstown State and started to point out other members of my unit who were also Phi Tau’s who would help me once it got to Kent.

Once I graduated from High School and went to MP Training that summer, I started my freshman year at Kent State. The floor of my dorm had several members of the restart of the Beta Mu chapter after a 20-year absence from campus. They had just formed the year before and needed members and asked me to come to a meeting. If you knew me in high school, I was not the type of person who would join a fraternity. I did not go through a formal rush or ever remember receiving a bid. I just kept walking through life with a group of men who seemed to be going in the same direction that I was going.

Our chapter had many members in the Military in different capacities, Ohio National Guard, Marine Reserve, Army Reserve, Air Force ROTC, or Army ROTC. When our chapter was planning our calendar, who had Drill on which weekend was always a consideration. In 1989, my journey in the Military and Phi Tau continued to intertwine. My brothers helped me with classes in January while I went to Alaska for two weeks when my unit had training.

French with chapter brothers in New Orleans

In March, Beta Mu signed our charter, and in the summer, a group of us drove down to New Orleans for our first National Convention. Then in 1990, the world started to change for my brothers and me. In June 1990, my unit got called to service to support the cleanup of the flash flood at Shadyside, Ohio, one of the deadliest that Ohio had ever seen. Then in August, while I was at Sergeant’s school, some guy we had never heard of invaded someplace halfway across the globe. Saddam Hussein had invaded Kuwait, and overnight our training took a serious turn.

French in Alaska, Fort Wainwright

At the start of the fall semester of my senior year at Kent, my brothers and I started to deal with the new reality that many of us would receive orders to support Operation Desert Shield. By the end of 1990, Beta Mu had over half of its membership on active duty, far more than any other fraternity on campus. The brothers who were not part of the Military kept the chapter going and supported the wives and girlfriends that we left behind.

For those of us deployed to Saudi Arabia, we sought each other out, and if a Phi Tau were near, we would visit if only for a few minutes. It helped us feel a little more connected to the outside world. Upon returning home, the brothers at Beta Mu had kept everything running and even grew the chapter, and it made transitioning back to being a college student a little easier. Then in 1992, I graduated from Kent State and concluded my service in the National Guard. My time as an Undergraduate and my time in the Military will always remain intertwined.

Phi Tau instills a sense of giving back, and it is just part of what makes us brothers. Although I had volunteered in other organizations, I was not a particularly involved alumnus until I was asked to be the Southeast Domain Director in 2011 to support our chapters at Auburn, Georgia Tech, and Georgia. This opportunity began my service to Phi Tau at the national level. In 2018 at the National Convention in Cleveland, I was elected to the National Council. My time on the Council has reinforced my firm belief that our volunteers are the lifeblood of our organization.