ROTC is perhaps one of the most misunderstood groups on campus, many students do not even know what ROTC stands for: Reserve Officers’ Training Corps. What is important to understand is that members of ROTC are first and foremost regular university students; students that have, on top of their normal school work and responsibilities, taken on the challenge of serving their country and community while attending school, testing themselves physically and emotionally, waking up well before their counterparts for physical training and taking on leadership roles that test them well beyond their peers. Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Hugh, the department head of Military Science, said, “I think a lot of folks here don’t know anything about [the ROTC program].
The Army ROTC program began at MSU in 1896, only three years after the university was established. Starting with only 40 members, the program was led by professor William M. Cobleigh, the first professor of military science. From the onset of the Spanish-American War in 1898 until 1916, there was very little instruction in the military department, aside from ROTC band. In 1916 the National Defense Act was signed and designated MSU as a Senior ROTC unit host, and was detailed as a Branch Infantry ROTC unit. At this time, all able-bodied young men had to complete a two-year basic ROTC course prior to graduation from MSU. On Aug. 1 1952, Air Force ROTC (AFROTC) Detachment 450 was officially organized and activated at MSU. In 1964 the ROTC Vitalization Act allowed for scholarships for deserving cadets in ROTC and no longer required the basic two-year ROTC course of all male students.
A student’s reasons for joining ROTC can be deeply personal. “My brother enlisted in the Air Force back in 2011. I was in high school at the time and when I saw him graduate it was kind of my first exposure to the military and its benefits,” Cadet Wing Commander of AFROTC Kyle Schuster said. “I saw how it impacted his life so positively within a very short amount of time, and so that kind of inspired me to take the same route. However, at the time I already knew I wanted to go to college, so I was at a point where I wanted to go to college, but I also wanted to serve at the same time. I found out about the ROTC program and decided to join.”
Schuster, a senior majoring in business marketing, sees a benefit in the ability to serve one’s country while still attending school and working on an education. His view is shared by many other cadets. Naomi Faith, a freshman in Army ROTC, said, “I decided to join ROTC because I have basically always wanted to serve in the military, it’s just one of those things that I think every able person should do. But during high school I realized that I also really wanted to pursue a career in nursing and ROTC was a great way to get the leadership and army experience that I’ll need for the military while also getting my nursing degree, so once I graduate I can do both military and nursing at once.”
Although many students in the ROTC program do not receive scholarships, others have their tuition paid for by the U.S. military in exchange for military service after graduation. Scholarships cover full tuition and mandatory fees for both resident and non-resident tuition, as well as a book allowance of $600 per semester and a monthly stipend of approximately $300-$500 to defray the cost of living. For Army ROTC, in exchange for this scholarship, students are required to sign a contract with the Secretary of the Army that they will commission to serve on Army active duty, National Guard or Army Reserves upon degree completion and serve in the military for a period of eight years. The requirements for Air Force scholarships are similar.
Cadets in their first two years of the ROTC program who are not receiving scholarships have no military obligation after graduation, providing an opportunity to rescind. Once cadets enter advanced courses in their third year, however, they must sign a contract to serve as an officer following training. Because members of ROTC have such rigorous training both in military theory as well as leadership, cadets who graduate from a four-year ROTC program can be commissioned into the military as a member of the National Guard, Military Reserves or an active duty 2nd Lieutenant. The designation of 2nd Lieutenant is the lowest ranking officer in the military, but, as a commissioned officer, ranks higher than enlisted personnel who enter the military through an entirely different process. When a freshly minted officer joins the group of soldiers or airmen they are to command, they are often paired with an experienced sergeant, an enlisted noncommissioned officer. Although the relatively inexperienced 2nd Lieutenant will hold sway over a group of enlisted personnel and their sergeants, the relationship begins as an educational formality for the Lieutenant, building the officer’s ability to command competently.
Roughly a quarter of cadets who graduate from the AFROTC at MSU commission into highly-desired positions in the Air Force, becoming pilots, navigators and air battle managers. Two graduates from MSU have gone on to become Lieutenant Generals, the second-highest ranking position in the Air Force.
ROTC programs at MSU, including both the Air Force and Army units are among some of the best programs across the country. In October, the MSU Army ROTC sent four personnel and one cadre member to the Army Ten-Miler in Washington D.C. where the team placed third for ROTC programs, behind only Florida State and West Point Military Academy, out of approximately 70 programs represented. Last April the Army ROTC sent two teams to the Bataan Death March 32 mile race in White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. Participants have to carry 35 lbs of non-perishable food on their back throughout the race, and at the end, all the food is donated to local food banks. Both MSU teams that participated in the march placed first in their respective divisions. Cadets are also expected to maintain high GPAs. Based on Spring 2015 GPAs, Air Force Det 450 had an average GPA of 3.262 which ranked them in the top 26 percent nationally. Det 450 is ranked in the top third of Air Force ROTC programs nationally in physical training. According to Hugh, “most of [the Army ROTC] cadets will graduate with a GPA above 3.5 and all cadets will graduate in four years unless they are disenrolled for misconduct.”
Since beginning in 1898 with 40 members, the ROTC program has grown to a size of approximately 110 members in the Army ROTC and 70 in the AFROTC. Although ROTC is under the College of Engineering, cadets are in majors from across campus, and from across the country. Because the members of ROTC represent the U.S. Military on campus, they are held to a very high standard of behavior. Hugh explained, “[Cadets] live in a glass house. [MSU ROTC] wants to set a good moral example with superb values.” If a cadet behaves inappropriately, such as being arrested, getting a DUI or “having their face [negatively] on the cover of the ‘Chronicle’,” Hugh said, they will be disenrolled and have to pay back any tuition fees that were paid for. Faith explained, “ROTC cadets are held to a stricter standard than a regular college student. If we get caught with any underage drinking, drugs or anything, not only do we face legal repercussions but also the possibility of getting kicked out of the program. For a lot of us this means the loss of a scholarship and the end of the career we wanted.” Being held to a higher standard means that ROTC cadets can grow their personalities in many ways. Schuster said, “The main advantage I see in ROTC is that it provides such a massive learning experience … It’s an amazing opportunity to grow your leadership potential regardless of what your job will be when you graduate. A few things I, and many other cadets, have learned throughout the program is a much greater sense of leadership, self motivation, self discipline and accountability for oneself.”