April 7, 2010

Top Guns: Cornell ROTC

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“Cover me while I move.”




This is the dialouge in Barton Hall, as Cornell freshman ROTC cadets learn how to move tactically. In other words, how to move when people are shooting at you.

“It’s very scientific,” Army Recruitment Officer Captain Lisa Dwyer said. “It’s not like the movies, where [people] are just running around with guns.”

This is just one thing that ROTC students learn, along with rappelling, marksmanship, underwater combat, and parachuting out of planes.

The ROTC — or Reserve Officer Training Corps — offers full tuition scholarships for students who participate in military training. There are currently about 175 students involved in Cornell’s ROTC programs.

What it Takes

The minimum requirements to enroll in the ROTC include U.S. citizenship, a 2.5 GPA and a 920 on the SATs. Students also must  go through a medical exam and a physical fitness test, according to Dwyer.

The ROTC then provides full tuition in any major at a four-year college of choice as well as a $1200 per year book allowance. Students with ROTC scholarships also receive a monthly living stipend of $250 to $400.

Three days a week, freshmen partake in exercises and leadership activities for a total of about six hours. This year there are about 50 freshmen in the Army, Navy and Air Force programs, including the students at Cornell’s satellite schools — Ithaca College, Binghamton, Elmira and Cortland.

In addition, freshmen and sophomores in the ROTC take a one-credit leadership elective. “They need to influence people to action using leadership and communication,” Dwyer said. “Students at Cornell are going to be the leaders in the world. We focus on independent leadership styles, and the art and science of tactics.”

ROTC also has training programs every summer in places such as Hawaii, Vietnam, the Mediterranean and San Diego. These experiences, which vary between the service branches, provide a unique and exciting training experience.

Within two hours of graduation, students who complete the program are commissioned as officers. They have the rank of a Second Lieutenant or Ensign in the Navy. From there they have training which can last from a couple weeks to two years for pilots. As officers, they will be responsible for the equipment, budget and maintenance of the 30 to 50 men and women under their command. The starting pay is about $52,000 but within three years  increases to $77,000.

Reasons for Involvement

Students get involved in ROTC for many different reasons. According to Dwyer, some are legacies, some do it for financial reasons, some don’t want a cubicle job and some want to be in the military or are interested in the service aspect —  and some even simply some just want to try it out for a semester and end up staying.

Sarah Asman ’13 Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies major joined ROTC because the program offers a fantastic medical scholarship. She is interested in a career practicing medicine in the military and hopes to go to medical school.

“ROTC will help in the money sense and experience sense,” Asman said. “There is something to be said for having military experience, and learning how to take charge of a situation. There is value in it because the U.S. military is so large, for greater or for worse.”

Asman really likes the program. “There is a false perception that being in the military is just about following orders. There is so much focus on actual leadership and learning to think for yourself.”

Asman does not come from a military family, but being in ROTC has made her realize that there are differences between military culture and the popular perception of it. “In recent years commissioning numbers are up, as is the number enrolled,” Lt. Colonel Steven Alexander said.

Cornell commissioned 20 people last year, and this spring another 30 will be commissioned.

Enrollment numbers have increased nationwide — elite schools included. “Some of it is definitely the economy,” Alexander said. “It’s not so much ‘I can’t pay for college,’ it’s more ‘I need a job after college’ since you spend a lot on education.”

College Life

ROTC students lead normal college lives around their ROTC responsibilities, according to Dwyer. “They can join the National Guard for community service, [plus] sororities, fraternities, dance troupes [and] newspapers. They then apply skills from here elsewhere and bring stuff back here from the groups they join.”

About 20 percent of the students in ROTC participate in intercollegiate sports, including football, wrestling and crew.

“We know that students go to a hard school, but GPA is only 40 percent of what happens. It’s a balance of normal life with necessary training,” Dwyer said. “We back off during prelim season.”

“I was here for pre-orientation and it gave me a set of friends,” Asman said. “Being in ROTC intersects with life in strange ways.”

One day each week, ROTC students wear uniforms all day, even to class. The Army ROTC wears uniforms on Tuesday, the Navy and Marines on Wednesday and the Air Force on Thursday.

“It’s fun with Intro to Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. It feels weird in uniform because I’m a feminist liberal,” Asman said. “Some people stare.”

Some students — including Asman — think that Cornell does not give ROTC students enough credits. Although they receive one credit for the required 3-hour leadership class every Tuesday, they don’t get any credits for the lab. On top of this, ROTC students are required to exercise three times a week from 6 a.m. to 7 a.m.

However, Alexander said, “We cannot fault the University for not giving more credit hours. Contact hours are not as high as they are for classes such as orgo. It’s also hard to translate the military curriculum into academia.”

Cornell’s Military History

Cornell has a long standing military tradition, with one of the oldest ROTC programs in the country. It is also the only Ivy League school that currently has a program in all three branches: Army, Air Force and Navy. Cornell and Princeton are the only Ivies with the Army branch on campus, although Princeton has only half as many ROTC students and only one satellite school to Cornell’s four.

Other Ivy League schools that do not have host programs are satellites at nearby schools. For example, Yale students train at U. Conn.; Dartmouth is a satellite of Norwich; U. Penn. is a satellite of Drexel and Harvard students have to go to MIT.

ROTC programs began on a national level in the 1910’s because the Military Academies could not commission enough officers. “The World War I era was the high point of synergy between Cornell and the ROTC,” Alexander said. There were actually enough cadets to fill all of Barton Hall.

During World War II, Cornell University commissioned more officers than any other institution, including West Point and Annapolis. Cornell contributed a large number of officers to the war effort and today the arch on West Campus serves as a memorial to the veterans.

Now, about 4,200 officers come from West Point, Annapolis and the Air Force Academy while another 12,000 to 15,000 come from the entire ROTC combined.

Up until the early 1960’s, all freshman and sophomore males were required to participate in ROTC. In 1962, though, there was a break between the school administration and the military because of the Vietnam War. According to Alexander, the feeling at Cornell in the ’60’s and ’70’s was, “[Against] the Vietnam War and anyone associated.”

Though Cornell is still recovering, accordinding to Alexander, “Cornell has pockets of good relations.” There is an office on the Cornell campus, ROTC receives a budget from the school, along with classroom space and training ground in the Mt. Pleasant area. The ROTC programs provide Cornell with instructors for P.E. classes and several other courses that are open to students who are not involved in ROTC.

Alexander feels that the ROTC is supported and able to do its mission but wants the perception of the program to be better, and that it is the ROTC’s responsibility to change things. RLD

Clarification: This Red Letter Daze article, “Top Guns: Cornell ROTC,” relied on reporting from Daze Contributor Ben Bissantz ’11. Bissantz is a Navy cadet in Cornell’s Reserve Officer Training Corps. Because of this actual and perceived conflict of interest, Bissantz should not have reported on this article, or his relationship to ROTC should have been fully disclosed. The Sun regrets that its policies regarding conflicts of interest were not followed in this situation.

Original Author: Laura Shepard