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ROTC quietly thriving at BC

For The Heights

Published: Monday, September 20, 2010

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01

It's 6:00 a.m. on a Wednesday morning. The sun has not yet warmed the brisk fall air of the sleeping Boston College campus, but in the Plex, a Water Combat Survival test for freshman and sophomore cadets at BC, hosted by the Army Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) is taking place. In this test, cadets prove their skills in emergency situations in the water through various tasks. Cadets are pushed, blindfolded, from the high diving board into the pool, in full gear and with a mock weapon that has to stay above water. They then have to swim calmly to the side of the pool. Few students are motivated to perform a task of this nature at such an early hour.

Students sign themselves up for ROTC for a myriad of reasons. "Leadership," says Chris Salerno, Cadet First Sergeant and CSOM '11, without hesitation, pointing out that the Army ROTC does not just instruct students on how to be a leader, it gives actual "hands-on experience." Each cadet is assigned a leadership position senior year. At the survival test when the younger cadets prove their survival skills in the water, the program's supervisors were present, but the seniors were really running the show, putting into action the skills that they had learned in previous years.

Army ROTC appeals to freshmen, especially, for many reasons. Many cadets, like Alyson Miller, A&S '11, joined the program without the intention of finishing it. Students can participate in the first two years of ROTC, the basic course, without signing a contract of service to the government. However, "I knew that I was not going to quit," she says, juggling ROTC, the pom squad, and this year, Synergy. "I came to college to dance, and I didn't want to miss out on the things that I would be doing if I weren't doing ROTC." Busy has been a way of life since freshman year, but the involved math major and theology minor looks forward to attending aviation school when she graduates from BC.

The program gives structure and a sense of organization to the normal college student's routine (which, depending on co-curriculars, can be fairly unstructured), leading to the development of time-management skills. Apart from these skills, which help in the academic and work world, the Army ROTC gives new students a group of people with whom they can feel comfortable and share a sense of camaraderie. New students may join ROTC the way they might pick up ultimate Frisbee freshman year; it gives them something to do, a way to stay fit, and an automatic group of friends and sense of belonging. It is not hard to see, then, why Miller and many other cadets choose to stick with the ROTC through the rest of their college years, regardless of whether it was their original intention.

The Army ROTC program places an emphasis on developing well-rounded cadets. For Gretchen Butt, A&S '12, this was a deciding factor in her choice to do ROTC at BC. At some colleges, the program can be very intense, in a way that is perhaps too restrictive for some students; cadets live with other cadets and the program can limit their circle of friends and other activities. At BC, on the other hand, cadets are able to participate in ROTC and still get the "college experience." It's the best of both worlds.

Supporting Butt's motivation to do Army ROTC at BC, Captain John O'Brien explained that "the emphasis is on being well-rounded." In fact, he made it clear that the program prefers that students be involved in other activities in addition to ROTC, because a variety of different experiences "will make a good officer in the future."

For Butt, the choice to do ROTC went deeper. "My dad was a colonel in the Air Force. I was brought up going to summer camp at Fort Myer," she explains. She enjoyed being raised in a military environment, and is considering a career in the military because of those experiences. "I only owe four years, but I want to go into the Criminal Investigation Division of the military police," she says.

There are also financial benefits to being an ROTC cadet. Cadets can earn scholarships for tuition, housing, books, and more. BC students who are Navy or Air Force cadets must go to other campuses to participate in these programs, as BC does not offer them. The closest Navy ROTC program is offered at BU, and Navy cadets must travel off campus three to five times a week for classes, meetings, and physical training. Also, because these students are part of another school's program, BC cannot offer the same financial aid as it can for the Army ROTC cadets.

For Navy cadet Pat Ahern, A&S '11, the various benefits of the program still outweigh the disadvantages (and coming from someone who had to take the T to BU three to five times a week at the crack of dawn freshman year, that says a lot). Ahern knew before coming to school that he wanted to be a Navy cadet, and he recognized the benefits of his dedication last fall when he studied abroad in Santiago, Chile. "I studied in Santiago, but I traveled all around," he explains. An avid skier, he was attracted to Chile for its proximity to the Andes Mountains. To make things easier, his captain at BU was highly supportive of his studying abroad.

Love of the outdoors is what motivated Ahern to choose Chile, and is what motivates many cadets to become involved in the ROTC. The Army famously markets itself on the wide variety of non-traditional careers that it offers, appealing to those who seek excitement in their employment after college.

"I could never do the nine-to-five thing," said Salerno as another one of his reasons for doing Army ROTC. The BC program itself is hugely in terms of its students and their co-curriculars, majors, and plans for post-graduation.

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