October 4, 2006

Female Cadets Advance in ROTC

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It was a month of grenade training, land navigation, and Chinook helicopter rides, and for Colleen Reiss ’04, it was a great time. At the end of junior year, she went to the woods of Washington State to complete Operation Warrior Forge, a mandatory Army Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) training program. At the end of the course, she ranked 33rd out of over 5,000 cadets in the nation.
Reiss is one of a sizeable number of women in the Cornell Army ROTC program who, “do the same thing as men, meet the same standards as men,” said Lt. Brian Page, department head of ROTC.
These women often surpass their male counterparts: Major Richard Brown ’90, who teaches the Junior Army ROTC class, said that in his six years at Cornell, three of the top cadets have been female.
The number of women in Cornell’s Army ROTC program varies; some years the graduating cadet class will be evenly split between the genders, while other years there will be no women. Currently eight of the 48 cadets are female. Women now account for nearly 15 percent of the U.S. Armed Forces, but cannot serve in active combat.
“I don’t see a distinction based on their ability to lead,” Brown said of his students.
“I served in Baghdad from 2004 to 2005, and 40 percent of the unit were women. Aside from the fact that they had separate rooms, they were the same, too,” he added, comparing the equal status of men and women in the military to that in ROTC.
Reiss, who just finished a tour in Afghanistan, agreed.
“Being a small percentage of any group … means that you are always somewhat conscious of the fact that you stand out in some way,” she said. “The Army is full of professional soldiers who are held to higher standards than most civilians when it comes to on-the-job interactions between men and women.”
This egalitarian attitude is in contrast to the mistreatment of women that has been brought to light in service academies over the last few years. In 2003, a Congressional panel said that Air Force Academy administrators had failed to respond to female cadets’ allegations of rape and sexual harassment. When charges are filed against male cadets in the Air Force Academy, West Point and other schools, they are tried under military law, where rape and sexual harassment can be dealt with administratively, resulting in private and less severe sentences.
Despite the recent allegations, in the last ten years, the number of women in the military who had experienced sexual harassment was halved.
“We don’t have to do as many pushups,” said Army ROTC Cadet Jennifer Speeckaert ’08, but compared to the rest of the males at Cornell, those in ROTC with her “have more respect for our physical strength. [ROTC is] my favorite part of going to school here, and I wouldn’t say that if it wasn’t egalitarian.”
The time commitment for the Army ROTC program is large, no matter the gender: Cadets begin training in August and end in May. Over the course of a week, cadets have two hours of ROTC class, two hours of a leadership lab, and two hours of physical training. At the end of their junior year, they must complete the intensive 33-day Operation Warrior Forge. After they graduate, cadets serve four years on active duty. In turn, the Army gives certain cadets up to $20,000 a year to help pay for college.
“All Cornell students who choose to be involved in extra-curricular activities find ways to balance academic commitments, extra-curriculars, and still having time to hang out with friends,” Reiss said. “When you enjoy the things you do, it all fits together and you find the time.”
According to Brown, romantic relationships are frowned upon.
“There’s a time and place for that experience. I’ve got a Facebook account — I know what they do, they’re college students, but at ROTC they’re very professional. They refer to each other by their last names,” he said.