October 28, 2003

Cornell's Real Weekend Warriors

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It’s 5:30 in the morning, and sophomore Brian Aquadro just woke up. He shaves, laces up his shoes, and heads out the door. Time for PT. Three mornings a week, Aquadro repeats the same routine, but unlike varsity athletes who may head to the Friedman weight room or the Teagle pool for morning practice, Brian heads to Barton Hall. That’s because he isn’t a varsity athlete at all. He’s on a team of a different sort: ROTC.

As a member of the reserve officer training corps, Aquadro and his fellow midshipmen sacrifice as much of their time and energy the for early practices and weekend games as any varsity team. The midshipmen put in extra hours in class and drill; athletes review game film. The midshipmen travel on weekend trips to wilderness survival courses and inter-service competitions; varsity athletes jump onto busses bound for Princeton and Yale. Yet unlike varsity athletes, ROTC students get little recognition on campus — recognition they certainly deserve.

Though I don’t envy the rigid ROTC routine, I sure respect it. Living nextdoor to one of the midshipmen for the past semester has reminded me just how difficult and valuable their jobs are.

Last Thursday, for instance, he and I decided to kick-off homecoming weekend with a late Thursday night. I’m not entirely sure when we stopped the fiesta but at some point I hit the sack. The pulsing screech of my alarm clock woke me up at 9:15 Friday morning: time for class.

I picked up my soap, toothbrush, and toothpaste and headed to the bathroom for a wake-up shower. As I opened the door to go in, my midshipman-friend came up the stairs already showered and shaved. I had just woken up for class — he was coming back from it.

“What’re you doing up so early,” I asked.

“I had class at 7:30 this morning,” he told me, “Naval Science, ROTC.”

I shook my head and hopped into the shower. Standing there, hot water reviving my brain, I began to think about what exactly my friend does in ROTC — and I thought about the weekend’s homecoming battles.

For an entire week, the Sun prepped us for the big showdown with Brown. “The Red Head to Battle!” every headline seemed to say in so many words. But our teams weren’t really going to war. Tackling running backs in Schoellkopf is a far cry from engaging hand-to-hand combat with an Iraqi terrorist who’s trying to kill you in Tikrit.

Though they may train like soldiers during the week and fight like them on weekends, 6’6″ 300 lb. linemen and field hockey players armed with sticks aren’t Cornell’s true warriors. The midshipmen are.

Undoubtedly you have seen them before. On Wednesdays and various other times during the week, scattered bunches of ROTC students walk around campus in full dress uniform — wrapping on the packages that are some of Cornell’s finest students, athletes, and leaders.

Junior Colin Murphy played four years of football, and two each of baseball and track in high school. He also captained the debate team and was active in his church. Sophomore Mark Sandeen played in the band, served in the NHS cabinet, and was a member of the international language honor society. Both also know how to lead a fleet and fire a battleship’s guns.

“The people in ROTC vary greatly,” said Sandeen. “Some are excellent athletes, others are extremely intelligent.”

But we all did something special in high school to get in here; accomplishments alone do not distinguish the midshipmen among us. The allegiance they show to a cause greater than just winning a game or acing a midterm does.

“I had always wanted to serve in the military,” said midshipmen 3rd class Tom McGuire. “The most enjoyable thing about the whole program is being able to wear the uniform of the U.S. Navy and having the privilege of saying that I will be an officer serving my country.”

“This organization has more importance than any other organization on this campus,” said Sandeen. “Its job is to train people to serve and protect our country.”

Right now, thousands of US troops patrol caves looking for the Taliban in Afghanistan and search ruined palaces in Iraq for Saddam. In just a few months, some seniors on this campus will probably join them.

After graduation, the government will ship this year’s class of midshipmen on a four year tour of active duty. Some will go to flight school, others will stick to ships. My friend wants to spend his time on a submarine. Whatever path they choose, these officers may someday find themselves in the thick of battle. While many of us will head to med school, Wall Street, or join law firms, the midshipmen will be off saving the world. We’ll all watch on TV and thank them.

Football players might be weekend warriors of the gridiron, but these midshipmen are warriors of real life. They deserve more credit than they get for doing a job few of us appreciate.

Archived article by Everett Hullverson