Some ROTC students may have free ride, but there is tough road ahead

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November 17, 2009

1:52 AM

Amidst the anti-war protests of the 1960s, private colleges like Harvard University and Yale University cut their Reserve Officers Training Corps programs, but now it seems their students really want them back. Students currently wanting to be involved with this training are being forced to campus hop.

For students at Harvard this means getting up at 4:45 a.m. to run to Boston University and scheduling their degree classes around a fairly intense schedule of field and physical training exercises. While my sympathy for Harvard students is limited, the existence and operation of the ROTC on college campuses still provides food for thought.

Some students here at the College of William and Mary enrolled in the ROTC program are given full scholarships, which include money for textbooks and a monthly living stipend. But what does this do to the environment on campus? Media stereotypes of the United States have taught me to expect all Americans to be armed and dangerous, but it is in many ways more unnerving to find myself seated in class next to a row of imposing students in fatigues. The sheer number of students so frequently visible in military regalia speaks to the dedication of College students to this cause.

I can’t help but feel there is a huge risk of abusing the college environment inherent in this system. With the cost of higher education skyrocketing, any option that offers the possibility of a full ride to a prestigious college is understandably appealing. But what does it cost students to get involved?

There is currently a requirement of all students receiving a ROTC scholarship to serve four years of active duty followed by four years in the Individual Ready Reserve — but in the current climate, is there much of a difference in your chances of ending up in Afghanistan or Iraq?
How many college freshmen are capable of seeing past the immediate allure of financial security and excess cash? Is it possible to visualize a future fighting in the Middle East when your greatest concern is pledging a fraternity or making the football team?

Alternatively, with $263 million spent on ROTC scholarships over the last five years, there exists an equal danger of the U.S. Army becoming a victim of abuse. America already has the world’s largest military expenditure — can the U.S. Army afford to be spending this kind of money on people just looking for an easy ride through college?

Perhaps I am just a cynic. In reality this program is far from an easy ride. It demands that participants commit themselves to a long-term curriculum of elective courses, labs and physical training. Along the way they will develop the abilities to motivate, to serve and to lead — as painfully cliched as this may appear, these are values that society as a whole could use a little more of.

When you take a closer look at the kinds of students who have enlisted in ROTC, you see that the majority of them are not violent; in fact, they are far from it. Sure, there are probably a select bunch of high school jocks looking to inject a little extra testosterone into their daily lives, but just as many seem to genuinely want to pick up applicable skills and become part of something that can make a difference. If students are feeling pressured to sign their lives away on projects like this, then it’s the cost of college education that should be addressed. Because at the end of the day, if these students want to gain an extra credit, stay in shape and maybe even serve their country, what’s so wrong with that?

So if the Ivy Leagues want their ROTC programs reinstated, what’s the harm?

These students are prepared to get up at the crack of dawn and travel for hours for this opportunity. As someone who struggles to make it to a 10 a.m. class, I have the utmost respect for this kind of commitment. And isn’t this kind of dedication exactly the kind of thing college is trying instill in us before we enter into the real world?

E-mail Lucy James at [email protected] Cartoon by Vicky Chao.

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