George Mason Law School

ROTC students commit time and lives

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April 22, 2008

3:28 AM

The ads for the U.S. Army promise leadership, travel and independence: the ultimate allure for a college-aged adolescent to be “An Army of One.”

But the number “one” has a different meaning for Reserve Officers’ Training Corps cadets at the College — it’s the number of credits they receive for military science classes. It also symbolizes the division often felt between the College and ROTC. Though they take on additional classes, physical training sessions, leadership responsibilities and have an eight-year commitment to the military after graduation, they often feel they’re on their own.

“I’m an RA, in ROTC and taking five classes,” Cadet Christy Catt ’09 said.

She puts in two hours of military science class a week, one hour of lab and physical training that begins at 6 a.m., but she gets no academic credit for her military science classes this semester. Other schools offer individuals credit for the complete program because it requires time, tests and papers like other classes.

As seems to be the case with many ROTC cadets, Catt comes from a military family. Both of her parents were in the Army, and, as a result, she lived overseas for 12 years of her life. Catt joined ROTC the summer before her freshman year as a sort-of trial run.

“It fit in my schedule so I decided to give it shot — I wasn’t diehard,” she said.

Now an MS-3, or military science third year, she is on a two-and-a-half-year scholarship, has a full commitment to the program and an obligation to the military after graduation.
Despite being one of few females in the program, Catt said all the girls are received with a lot of support by leaders and fellow cadets. They face different physical requirements but are otherwise held to essentially the same standards.

Though support for females within the program may be positive, Catt said the campus’s reaction to the ROTC program itself is “almost polarized.”

“If you see someone in a [military] uniform, it doesn’t indicate their political beliefs,” she said. “I walked through the Sunken Garden during an anti-war protest — that wasn’t a positive experience.”

Such a protest occurred recently, when CODEPink lined the Garden with black military boots.

“They assumed my beliefs,” Catt said. “People in ROTC belong to both political parties.”

As with non-ROTC students, discussions about the war among cadets can get intense.

“We try to shy away from discussing it in group settings,” Catt said. “It can get heated because everyone was brought up differently — we have some who have family in the army, some whose families are worried about it.”

Catt explained that most servicemen and women are dedicated to serving America, regardless of their political beliefs about the war.
“No one’s saying ‘Oh, if only we weren’t in Iraq,’” Catt said. “I’m going to go where I’m sent. [You go] whether you agree with it or not.”

Beyond a duty to their country, it seems there is a duty to fellow members of the military. Catt mentioned those who have already been sent on multiple tours to Iraq and Afghanistan.

“I’d almost rather go instead of someone who has already been three or four times,” she said.

For Cadet Kurt Carlson ’10, ROTC opened doors, providing him with the opportunity to attend the College from out of state through a four-year scholarship. Carlson said he would have likely joined ROTC at another school even if he didn’t get a scholarship, perhaps because of the influence of two generations of military service behind him.

Nonetheless, the scholarship changed his academic path and he is prepared to pay back his debt and serve his country.
“Regardless of politics, I still want to be in the Army,” he said.
The camaraderie resulting from the journey toward deployment makes the ROTC program a unique way to form a strong network of friends.

“You meet some really great people,” Carlson said. “A lot of my really good friends on campus are in ROTC.”

The program also focuses on values of leadership, commitment, awareness and time management.

“You are constantly making sure you are fulfilling your responsibilities,” Carlson said. “On top of everything else, you still have to have a strong GPA.”

Carlson wants to go into infantry, the primary combat branch of the army, which engages enemies directly. He said he recognizes the probability that he will be deployed to either Iraq or Afghanistan, and he is prepared to accept this reality.

“I don’t have any objection to being deployed,” he said. “It will be hard with family, though.”

According the ROTC members, the war in Iraq can sway a student’s decision to join, as evidenced by the fact that only four cadets graduated last year.

“When you join as a freshman you don’t know what’s going to happen five years down the line,” Catt said. “That could turn off some people, especially families.”

Under current curriculum restrictions, ROTC candidates receive 14 credits for eight semesters of military science classes, with eight counting toward graduation. Cadets must also complete approximately eight hours of instructional learning, two-and-a-half-hour labs every week and early morning physical training three times a week, all in addition to a regular course load.

Former ROTC cadet Matt Pinsker ’09 said he was unable to continue with the program because of medicine that he takes for attention deficit disorder.

“ROTC teaches students how to think and analyze a problem, and then develop a solution,” he said. “I have applied that to this situation.”

A bill that called for more academic credit for the military science program and the opportunity for cadets to earn a minor in the program passed unanimously last April. However, only the Educational Policy Committee holds the power to change academic policy.

“The bill did send a message to the faculty and administration and let them know that students felt that their peers in military science were being treated unfairly,” Pinsker said.

The EPC upped compensation by one credit, a change that will go into effect next fall.

“Military rank is indicative of mastery of military science, much like how a Ph.D. is indicative of mastery in an academic area,” Pinsker said. “The truth is that the ROTC teachers are among the best I have ever had, and really know their subject.”

For ROTC students, the academic, physical and mental challenges they face is just a precursor to the experiences they will have in the very real worlds of Iraq and Afghanistan.

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