|FEATURES Summer 2002|
In the aftermath of the attacks of last September 11, Washington University students are showing a newfound interest in, as well as a newfound appreciation for, the Army and Air Force ROTC programs. Students enroll in these programs to learn vital leadership skills that promise wide-reaching practical applications.
Throughout its long history at Washington University, dating back to 1919, the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) has seen its fortunes wax and wane. ROTC was popular, for instance, around both world wars. It was very unpopular, however, during the Vietnam War.
In recent years, many people on and off campus have been barely aware that Washington University students could participate in the Army's Gateway Battalion, based on campus, or in the Air Force's Gateway Detachment 207, based at Saint Louis University. Each program includes students from several St. Louis-area colleges and universities. (Of the 90 students in the Army battalion, 31 are Washington University students. Of 156 students in the Air Force detachment, 14 are from Washington University.)
This relative invisibility ended last September 11. Because of the terrorist attacks that day and the resulting ongoing war, military matters have moved front and center. "ROTC is more acceptable than it has been for a long time," says Washington University's James W. Davis, professor of political science in Arts & Sciences, director of the Teaching Center, and informal adviser to the battalion.
Cadets seem to agree. "There's more respect now for the uniform and the person wearing it," says Army Cadet Scott Poznanski, Engineering Class of '04. "More of my peers understand that I'm getting ready to protect them and their way of life, but many still think I'm a little crazy."
The majority of undergraduate students would not want to meet the Army ROTC's physical demandsstarting hour-long workouts at 6:30 a.m. three days a week, passing fitness tests and field training including rappelling and obstacle courses, eating meals ready-to-eat (MREs) during field operations, and maintaining an acceptable body weight. Nor would they want to commit precious time to go to a military science class one or two afternoons a week for no academic credit. Many would not or could not function with the discipline required. As Poznanski says, "Not everyone is apt to be a [military] leader."
Leadership is a prime focus of ROTC. "We still teach skills such as giving first aid, operating a radio, and reading a map," says Army Lieutenant Colonel Gary M. Griggs, professor of military science and battalion commander at Washington University, "but now we emphasize leadership and management training." The Air Force ROTC also emphasizes leadership, especially as it relates to technology, according to its commander, Lieutenant Colonel Julie B. Delespesse, professor of aerospace studies at Saint Louis University.
Cadets truly value the experience. "The discipline involved has helped me with my study habits," says Air Force Cadet George Bell, Arts & Sciences Class of '04. "Through the Air Force I hope to go to law school and into politics." Poznanski, a biomedical engineering major who is also a linebacker on Washington University's football team, says the skills he has learnedhow to motivate people to do things for the good of the group, how to counsel soldiers on their social problems, and how to make presentations and communicate with all levels of commandwill help in any career.
"Whatever paths they pursuecorporate management, the Army, or whateverthese bright young people will end up making a difference, and they'll have an appreciation of the military," says Lieutenant Colonel Constance M. Carpenter, who retired two years ago and now works on contract with the Army.
Carpenter, who is in charge of recruiting for the Gateway Battalion, says an important draw for both programs is the financial support they offer. For 2002-2003, the Army will provide 11 four-year, full-tuition scholarships at Washington University, amounting to $29,000 annually per student. The University will add $8,000 to each for room and board, as an incentive. Competition for scholarships, four-year or otherwise, is strong. (There were 143 applicants for the 11 four-year scholarships.) The same kinds of scholarships and incentives are available to Air Force ROTC cadets.
"We still teach skills such as giving first aid, operating a radio, and reading a map, but now we emphasize leadership and management training."
However, for a cadet to be successful, he or she must be motivated by more than the funding, according to both Griggs and Delespesse. "Applicants, especially this year, express strong patriotism," Griggs says. Delespesse adds that another frequent motivator is having a family tie to the military.
For instance, both of Scott Poznanski's grandfathers were in military service. On the other hand, some cadets, such as Army Cadet Carolyn M. Beata, Arts & Sciences Class of '04, are the first in their families to be in the military. A Spanish major and a member of Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority, she says there is great camaraderie between male and female cadets, adding that the most difficult thing for her has been learning about weaponry. "Most boys played with GI Joes® as kids, so they know about M-16 rifles and AT-4 rockets," she says, "but, to me, weapons were foreign."
"The percentage of women in ROTC is increasing," says Carpenter. In the Army's Gateway Battalion, 31 percent of cadets are women. In the Air Force detachment, 28 percent are women. Carpenter says, "In the military, there is no 'glass ceiling.'"
Though the military bans discrimination based on gender, it still discriminates based on sexual orientation. Among those openly protesting its "don't ask, don't tell" policy have been individuals at Washington University's law school. For many years, until the University's federal funding was threatened, the law school refused to allow military recruiters to recruit inside Anheuser-Busch Hall. Many observers feel the military's policy will not change until there are more tolerant persons in higher ranks.
In the meantime, the policy has not deterred each program's steady rise in applications and in its ranking. The Air Force's Gateway Detachment is in the top 10 of 143 U.S. detachments, according to the size of the cadet corps. Based on quality of programs, the Army's Gateway Battalion is ranked No. 24 out of 270 nationwide, having moved up from No. 107, its rank when Griggs arrived in 1997.
Griggs and his staff greatly improved recruiting and are credited with the rise. "Griggs has done a great job. He has been very instrumental in a reversal of fortunes for WU ROTC," says Dennis Martin, associate vice chancellor and associate dean of Arts & Sciences, who oversees the University's ROTC program. "He established good rapport with the University administration, maintained a very professional staff, and worked hard at recruiting. His own background, including a commitment to higher education, helped."
Determined to continue that trend is Lieutenant Colonel Tom Wilson, a military intelligence officer coming from Europe to become battalion commander in August. "Serving in the military in an academic setting differs greatly from most Army jobs," says Griggs, who will be pursuing a doctoral degree through the Army. "It requires great flexibility, in order to keep academics as the top priority."
ROTC cadets graduate as second lieutenants; scholarship recipients are under contract to serve four years of active duty upon graduation. Many recent graduates are actively serving in the war on terrorism. After active duty, Army ROTC cadets also are bound to serve four years in the reserves.
Cadets say their military studies have assumed more urgency in the wake of 9-11, and they are likely paying closer attention to in-class briefings on news events. Though teachers and cadets do not express war-related opinions in class, they do talk about related tactical advantages and disadvantages. "My military training hits closer to home now," Poznanski says. "One day I'll likely be out there dealing with these kinds of situations."
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