ROTC Cadets Seek Career in Military
May 10, 2012
by Alexander C. Dubois
The orange light from the street lamps illuminates the camouflaged uniforms of the group gathering in the parking lot. They pass the time with small talk, checking their equipment as they begin to form into rank. At 6 a.m., the group is called to attention.
At 6:05, weapons are distributed. Each cadet takes a rifle from the back of a truck parked nearby, breaking the silence of the morning air as they call out the weapon's number. The rifles, only replicas, are a strange sight against the backdrop of the sleepy Catholic campus behind them.
At 6:10, the cadets are given instructions and march from the library parking lot, past the tennis courts and up the hill leading behind Donahue Hall.
"When I get to Heaven, St. Peter's gonna say, ‘How'd you earn your living, boy? How'd you earn your pay?'" The cadet leading the march begins a traditional Army cadence, or marching song, each line repeated by the group behind him.
In a few years time, these cadets at Stonehill College will march down the same hill as part of a graduation ceremony.
The best way to understand the experience of ROTC cadets is to spend a morning observing them. The Reserve Officers' Training Corps - ROTC - is an Army program affiliated with colleges and universities around the country. The goal is to develop cadets who learn the leadership qualities of an officer while earning a college degree.
These cadets are part of Bravo Company of the Charles River Battalion. The company includes cadets from Stonehill, the host school, Bridgewater State University, Curry College, Massachusetts Maritime Academy and Massasoit Community College. Out of the entire company of 35, eight cadets are Stonehill students; one freshman, four sophomores, one junior, and two seniors.
As they move across campus one early morning, the camouflage of their uniforms seen next to the purple of their alma mater, the unique experience of these eight cadets is easily understood. As soldiers, they learn to salute, handle live firearms during select trainings, and must pass an Army physical fitness test. As students, they must fulfill the same curriculum requirements as others. They must maintain a 2.0 GPA; for those who drop below 3.0, weekly study halls are mandatory.
"The Army is meant to be a profession," said CPT Lindsey Elder, program officer and assistant professor of military science at Stonehill. "We're big on education, but we try not to be in competition with it. It's about finding a balance".
Elder, an Army officer for the last 10 years, was a member of the ROTC program at UMass Amherst while serving in the Massachusetts National Guard.
"Being an ROTC cadet first and coming back, I think I'm a better assessor now of the ROTC program," Elder said. "ROTC cadets have to be motivated. They have jobs and other real-life things. You prove to yourself how much you can handle. I think it helps you even more."
John Smoot, 20, of Hingham, Mass., is a sophomore at Stonehill currently completing his second year in the ROTC program. For him, ROTC offers a number of opportunities.
"If you properly take advantage of it, you'll get huge values out of ROTC your peers can't get from regular school. In general, you learn how to take responsibility for yourself and, in my opinion, you're much more prepared for the real world," Smoot said.
ROTC also offered him a second chance at serving in the military.
Smoot initially tried to enlist in the Marine Corps. Due to a medical condition, he wasn't accepted, Smoot said. A number of his friends entering into ROTC programs told him that the ROTC was looking for candidates, and, more importantly, would be willing to look into getting him a medical waiver. After applying, he was offered a three-year scholarship to Stonehill College through the ROTC program.
"It's not about the free tuition for me," Smoot said. "I love the Army and I've always wanted to serve my country."
While an ROTC scholarship can help with tuition costs, for Smoot and many of his fellow cadets, the desire to serve preceded the possibility of financial aid.
Sophomore cadet Ryan Forte, 19, of Franklin, Mass., hoped to get into the Air Force Academy. When he didn't, and when he didn't hear back from the Air Force ROTC, Forte turned to the Army where he was offered a four-year Army ROTC scholarship to Stonehill. Like Smoot, the program offered him a second chance.
"I decided to select Stonehill," Forte said. "I finally had the opportunity to serve my country as an officer."
For other cadets, the decision to join ROTC came after college began.
Taylor Viotto, 20, is a sophomore at Stonehill from Washington, N.J., who joined the program during the first week of his freshman year.
"I have always wanted to serve in some form of the military. Growing up it fluctuated between the branches until my senior year in high school," Viotto said. "It was then that I decided I would attend college and go through Army ROTC. On the first day on campus I walked over to the detachment. I signed the papers right away."
The Army ROTC program, alongside academies such as West Point and the Officer Candidate Schools, are meant to graduate commissioned officers. The goal of every cadet, including the eight currently attending Stonehill College and the 27 others in Bravo Company, is to graduate with both a college degree and an Army commission.
The future of ROTC, however, may be towards a smaller program, said Elder.
"In the past, if we have 30 people that were healthy, happy and passing all the requirements, we would have 30 lieutenants," she said. "Now, we can be even more selective.
Future classes could see a size cap, setting the limit of possible cadets. Until then, the program is being more stringent on allowing cadets time to bring things like their GPA or physical fitness scores up to the requirements.
"Now, knowing there is not the need for the amount of people we already have, they will just be disenrolled if they cannot meet a standard," said Elder.
Last year the company commissioned 22 cadets. This year they expect to commission 24, Elder said.
For Stonehill cadets like Smoot, Forte, and Viotto, the future is full of possibilities.
"I don't fully know how my Army career will turn out," said Forte. "But I do know my experiences with ROTC will benefit me. I will develop the leadership skills needed to be an officer in the Army, in whatever field it may be."
For them, graduation from Stonehill College will come with more than a degree and a walk across the stage. These select few, to be commissioned as Second Lieutenants in the United States Army, will have serve in the military for eight years.
"Getting commissioned at the end of my senior year is really only the beginning of my learning experience," Smoot said. "When I get assigned my platoon I'm going to want to remember to know my place. I'll be a young guy expected to lead guys that know more than me and have been through a lot more."
To view a video of this story go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QzkYPAZ9G5s&feature=youtu.be
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