Training with the ROTC: Students in uniform
Some might call them crazy for rising (sometimes before the sun does) before 6:30 a.m. three times a week, but for members of ROTC, this is an integral part of college life.
“You never get used to it,” said senior James Tucker who is majoring in history and religious studies.
Designed for university students and with a presence at 272 schools nationwide, ROTC is the largest military commissioning program producing officers for the United States Army.
While there are many aspects to this program, the learning component is divided into two main areas: practical physical training and classroom military science courses.
On average, members reported that they spend seven to eight hours per week on ROTC-related activities: two to three hours in a formal classroom, three hours of physical training, and a two-hour training session in Forest Park.
But the time commitment is actually more demanding once less-frequent activities like lab work, weekend-long training exercises, and monthly fitness tests are taken into account.
When cadets engage in training exercises, such as the one attended by Student Life at Weldon Springs, the Army’s goal is to simulate what it would be like on a real mission. Cadets wear their full Army gear and carry real guns (with blank bullets), along with a 35-pound gear pack.
Part of this training is to test the cadets with unexpected or variable situations.
“So basically.they’ll insert folks to throw a monkey wrench into the process,” said Major Travis Grigg, who teaches military science for ROTC at the University. “The point of the exercise is to see if your cadet in charge of that patrol at the time deals with that distraction properly and continues his or her mission or lets the situation overcome him or her and not do it.”
Grigg offered an example of a time when cadets did not do what they should.
“We had a supply sergeant from one of the schools playing a role.He started an argument about how he stole my van.and the cadets didn’t really take charge of the situation, and he had grenade simulators in his pockets and while all these cadets were standing around, he just threw these grenade simulators down, and he said ‘All you guys are dead,’” said Grigg. “So that’s the kind of thing that could happen. You could have someone like a suicide bomber, somebody strapped and has explosives on, and that patrol leader doesn’t get that person away from his or her patrol, they could have something on them and hurt them.”
A cause for frustration amongst members of ROTC is that, for the most part, the University does not grant credit for any of the 22 credit hours cadets will take over four years in ROTC. The exception to this is the School of Engineering, which grants six credit hours at graduation for those who participated in the program.
“Most public schools give credit.most of the private schools do not,” said Lieutenant Colonel Tom Wilson, who teaches military science. “The folks that we talked to over at Princeton or Johns Hopkins, they do not. It just depends on the school. Each university has their own policy for it.”
Wilson explained that balancing ROTC with the workload at the University is difficult, but cadets have support for this.
“When you get admitted to Washington University, you’re a pretty high caliber student to begin with, so you’re used to balancing a pretty severe workload in some cases,” said Wilson. “If they can’t stay in school, if they can’t graduate, they’re no good to me either. I want them to stay in school and graduate, so we sit down with each cadet on a semester-by-semester basis and we counsel them.It is tough, and some of the other universities that do give academic credit for it, it’s probably a little bit easier.”
Cadets had mixed reactions to the difficulties in balancing ROTC and their other commitments.
“It’s actually not too bad at all,” said freshman Brian Jones. “It’s more hands-on training instead of the books and the writing papers.[in] other classes. So actually for me personally, it’s kind of a nice break.You get to come out and really delve into something and learn a lot. You’re just out there experiencing, so it’s really neat.”
But some cadets find it difficult to maintain the balance between ROTC and their other activities.
“Outside of school, I manage a business, I have a house, and I’m taking a full load, I’ve got an internship, it’s nuts,” said senior James Tucker.
Occasionally, the balance between ROTC and other commitments becomes too much for some students.
“We’ve had some cadets that just say, ‘Look, I can’t do this now,’” said Wilson. “For instance, we had one young lady last semester who came in and said, ‘I wanna do this, I really like it, I wanna be in the Army, but I can’t balance the workload right now.’ She was trying to work at a job plus go to college plus all this other stuff going on in her life and she felt it was just too much.She’s still in school, but she could not continue in ROTC because of the demands of the time.”
One of the draws to ROTC is that it offers a four-year scholarship to college. Cadets saw this as particularly advantageous, especially since, for many, private universities would be unaffordable without it.
“The advantage of taking ROTC is that you don’t need to pay for school,” said Tucker. “So there’s people who are at Wash. U. who wouldn’t be at Wash. U. otherwise. I wouldn’t be at Wash. U..There’s something admirable about spending four years serving my country, potentially risking my life for this country, to pay for my school.”
According to Tucker, members of ROTC tend to be more politically diverse than people might think.
“There’s supporters of Bush, non-supporters of Bush. There’s really everyone in the military,” said Tucker. “Statistically, people come to the military just for the money.”
After college, members of ROTC might go on active duty, but this is not necessarily the case. Some might further their education by going to law school or medical school, for example, and then becoming military lawyers or doctors.
Because the cadets’ motivations for joining the Army are different, Tucker said that this oftentimes determines what they do afterwards.
“It kind of stratifies people,” said Tucker. “You’ve got the people who are really excited about it. They’re gung-ho. ‘I want to go over there and do something right for my country.’ You’ve got some people who are kind of middle of the road. ‘I really don’t want to, but if I have to, I will.’ And then you’ve got other people who are like, ‘I really don’t want to go, but it’ll happen.’”
When asked if the Army prevented Tucker from discussing certain subjects with Student Life, he answered that he could speak about nearly everything.
“I don’t really think so,” said Tucker. “Like, you shouldn’t jeopardize a mission, you probably shouldn’t come against the military too hard as a cohesive unit.”
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