April 7, 2003

ROTC Confronts The War on Iraq

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Cornell University is often highlighted for its dichotomous existence among Ivy League schools, with a politically liberal student body and the presence of a government-funded military training facility. With the war in Iraq splitting campus opinion, the University’s Army Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC), the only Ivy other than Princeton with this program, has received a lot of attention.

Although the 89 cadets from Cornell and area schools have the war on their minds, their instructors are trying to keep students focused on their main task learning how to be good leaders in any situation, military or otherwise.

Prof. Col. Robert J. Sova, military science, said that the level of training does not waver, no matter what the status of the war may be.

“We are developing future leaders — leaders who will have the opportunity to lead the young men and women of the United States Army,” Sova said.

Despite the attempts of the cadre, however, it is difficult for cadets to go unaffected.

Colleen Reiss ’04, for example, said that discussion turns to the war from time to time in her ROTC and other classes.

“The military service professor talks about thinking about where you could be,” Reiss said, referring to location of deployment as well as combat situations.

Each class focuses on different aspects of the current war.

“In ROTC, we focus much more on the military side of things. Leadership will apply whether we’re in a war or in peacetime,” Reiss said.

Her fellow cadets do not discuss the political implications of the war much more than other students.

Cadet Chris O’Brien ’03 said that he is glad to see a greater awareness of current events. Because of the unique ROTC approach to such topics, “discussions about the war stay within the classroom” as cadets and cadre explore examples of good and bad leadership, O’Brien said.

Although the war has invaded classrooms across campus, antiwar advocates have not been overly hostile to students in the ROTC program.

“I haven’t had any conflicts with antiwar people,” Reiss said. She explained that the on-campus response has been similar to that soon after Sept. 11, when there were “a lot of questions — not hostile, but people just have a lot of questions.”

One of the most common questions O’Brien has heard, he said, is if he can be deployed before graduation. He constantly reminds people that only after commencement will the cadets become commissioned as Second Lieutenants.

The Excelsior Battalion currently has 10 seniors who will be commissioned during commencement. Those going on active duty will report to a training course for four to six months, then receive branch-specific training.

“There is a significant amount of discussion about branch orientation,” Sova said. He admitted that the heightened threat of chemical and biological warfare “has not really changed the desire to seek that branch” over the other 15 available.

Because cadets who enter active duty may be deployed within a year, many recent Cornell alumni are currently overseas, quite a few in the Middle East.

Reiss understands the stress of knowing officers overseas.

O’Brien said that “there are at least five cadets from the past few years who are somewhere in the vicinity of Iraq,” many of whom he trained with during his four years in the ROTC program.

As the 10 seniors begin to prepare for graduation, the impending threat of going overseas is becoming a reality. Instead of deciding on graduate school or career choices, these student-cadets are planning for the possibility of deployment.

Cadet O’Brien said that when he first thought about joining ROTC, “I kind of expected to be sent somewhere at some time.” He may get his chance sooner than he thought.


Archived article by Melissa Korn