Veteran’s Day: a time to commemorate the end of World War I and remember those who have fought for their country. This occasion also gave Cornell’s ROTC students — particularly seniors — a chance to reflect on their plans for military service.
While the cadets and midshipmen in Cornell’s ROTC Joint Service Brigade — the Army, Navy/Marine Corps, and Air Force — stood at attention at the Veteran’s Day Ceremony in Barton Hall Friday afternoon, distinguished veteran Frank Raponi told them of his service in World War II and Korea. The speech was followed by closing remarks from Brigade Commander Cadet Matthew Zimmerman ’01.
“Veterans’ Day is an important reminder and celebration of the men and women who have served our country at home and abroad,” Zimmerman said. “Many of these Americans gave their lives and many more sacrificed in other ways in defense of the freedom that we enjoy today.”
Cornell has one of the oldest military traditions of any school in the United States. Military training was mandatory for male students from the opening of the University until 1960. Currently, there are approximately 200 ROTC students at Cornell, whose reasons for joining up range from financial to familial.
REASONS FOR JOINING
“My father was in the Air Force for 20 years, and he suggested that, with my interest in engineering and inclination in biology, I look into getting an Air Force ROTC scholarship in environmental engineering,” Zimmerman said. “I saw ROTC as the ideal way to pay for an education that I could then use to protect the environment and serve my country.”
“My grandfathers were both career-enlisted members of the Air Force and one of them encouraged me to look into military scholarships for college,” said Cadet Joshua Smalley ’01, the Air Force ROTC Wing Commander.
Family experience, however, is not a requirement for ROTC enlistment.
“I do not come from a military family — my parents were very surprised with my decision,” Midshipman Christine Silva ’01 said. “They repeatedly told me that I didn’t have to join ROTC to pay for college. My mother also didn’t think I’d last two weeks in the program mainly because I’m extremely independent and she thought I would rebel against the idea of people giving me orders.”
“I’ve been interested in the military since I was pretty young, although I don’t have much of a family background in it,” Cadet Andrew Hammer ’01 said. “The major motivation for me to join army ROTC was the money. I also though it would be a good life experience.”
While most first year students go through an adjustment period, ROTC freshmen have the added pressures of the unfamiliar military requirements.
“I was pretty intimidated by the whole thing,” Smalley said. “Freshman year is when you are first taught all the stuff that comes along with being in the military — customs and courtesies, saluting, learning how to march, etc. — so it was a little intimidating in the sense that I had a lot to learn since I’m not really from a military background.”
“As a freshman I was required to be a member of the drill team which practiced every Tuesday and Thursday at 5:45 a.m. and Sundays at 6 p.m.,” Silva said. “My main job for the year was to survive drill, get a GPA of 2.5, and pass the Physical Readiness Test.”
Rigorous exercise is a major part of a ROTC student’s life.
“Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday we have physical training from 6:30 to 7:30 a.m.,” Hammer said. “It can be tough getting up that early but once you get used to the schedule it isn’t too bad. Also, I’ve found that after a good workout in the morning I feel better all day.”
As a marine, Silva has to complete an especially demanding physical test.
“You have to perform to a higher standard as a marine,” Silva said, who clocks in her three-mile run at 23:30. “It’s very exciting and demanding.”
Physical training means more than early morning sprints up Libe Slope and push-up drills, however. The cadets and midshipman get field experience around the world during the summers and participate in special weekend trips with their units during the school year.
“I attended Freefall, a two week program that allowed me to jump out of airplanes and learn parachuting skills,” Smalley said. “It’s amazing how quickly you learn the stuff. One week was spent doing ground training, and the next week was set aside for the actual jumps. Complete five jumps and you receive your jump wings. it was an awesome experience and a definite confidence booster.”
“Once every semester, the entire army battalion goes on a weekend trip to either Fort Drum or Fort Indian Town Gap,” Hammer said. “We do things that we can’t easily do at Cornell, such as obstacle courses and battle drills using MILES gear, which is sort of like laser tag, except that the lasers are attached to the end of M-16’s and are activated by the firing of a blank round.”
When they aren’t flexing their muscles, these ROTC students are flexing their brains in classes, deconstructing the ethics of war and working on engineering problem sets.
“I am taking 20 credits and spend 10 to 15 hours a week doing various NROTC activities,” Silva said. “Besides this I also have a job and I am a member of the Cornell Muay Thai kickboxing club. Generally I go from class to ROTC events to other commitments and then try to relax Fridays and Saturdays.”
With hours of physical and mental ROTC commitments every week on top of Cornell requirements, ROTC students must become masters of time management.
“Managing your time as a cadet is extremely important,” Hammer said. “You need to make sure you get your work done early enough so that you can get a decent night’s sleep before P.T. [personal training] or you can organize your class schedule so that you can take a nap afterwards.”
“This week I attended a formal ROTC dinner on Saturday, led the ROTC units in a Veterans’ Day parade Sunday morning, held a staff meeting Sunday night, had my weekly meeting with the Colonel on Tuesday, spoke to elementary school kids about the military on Wednesday morning, left Cornell for my pre-commissioning physical in Syracuse at 5 a.m. on Thursday, had a two-hour leadership laboratory and three-hour ROTC class Thursday, hosted a Veterans’ Day Ceremony that I was in charge of planning and running on Friday, and attended a Veterans’ Day Ceremony on Saturday,” Zimmerman said. “I easily spent another five hours on ROTC-related e-mails alone. I also had three papers to write this week, problem sets, helping people in the class I T.A. for, and a prelim.”
“Time management is essential. Priorities are essential. Delegation is essential,” he added.
“ROTC is in large part about how much you are willing to put into it,” Smalley said. “I am required to spend about three hours per week in class and up to three hours on Thursday afternoon in Leadership Lab. As the Wing Commander, I have to put a lot of time into meeting with the officers who oversee our cadet training program. Then I meet with my staff on a weekly basis. All of this tends to eat up a lot of my time. I’m involved in a couple of other societies on campus, but the majority of my time outside of time spent on school work is put into ROTC.”
While juggling their activities and obligations, the ROTC students have gained many life-long skills through the program.
“One of the main things I’ve gained from ROTC is the friends I’ve made,” Silva said. “I’ve also grown a lot as a person and a leader. I also think that the program helped me rea
lize that I am capable of much more than I used to think.”
“The army often plays up in the commercials the technical skills you can gain from it,” Hammer said. “However, I feel that by far the greatest benefit of my military experience are qualities such as leadership, discipline, perseverance, and teamwork. Other intangible qualities such as charisma are also extremely important to gaining the respect of other cadets, especially when working with ones you’ve never met before.”
“The most important things I have gained are confidence and purpose,” Zimmerman said. “I know I can get things done and I know I can get others to get things done. I had leadership positions in high school, in class offices and on sports teams, but I have never experienced true leadership outside of ROTC.”
The cadets and midshipmen must serve for a minimum of four years after graduation.
This summer, Silva will be attending BULLDOG, the six-week summer training required for all Marine Corps. “BULLDOG is similar to everyone’s notion of boot camp except it is for officer candidates,” she said. “Then I will go to The Basic School, which is also in Quantico, for six months, and then a school that is specifically the job I will have. I hope to get a slot in the intelligence field.”
Hammer will take an education delay to attend medical school.
Smalley, who to work on criminal investigations or intelligence in the Air Force, is not sure if he will stay in beyond his four year commitment. “It depends on if I like what I’m doing and my situation at the time,” he explained. “I’m definitely looking forward to seeing what the next few years will bring me. It’s a great opportunity to travel overseas and with any luck, I’ll be sent to Hawaii or Japan for my first assignment.”
Zimmerman will stay at Cornell extra semester for a masters degree in environmental management before embarking on a career as an Air Force environmental engineer. “I would like to be stationed in Japan or Guam, but I will go where ever the Air Force decides I am most needed,” he said. “I would eventually like to be a university professor, either in the Air Force or out.”
Archived article by Nicole Neroulias