On a sunny Wednesday afternoon, ROTC cadets wearing Kevlar helmets and the Army Combat Uniform trek through Matoaka Woods. “Engage and destroy the enemy,” they are told. Not the typical afternoon activity for most students at the College of William and Mary, but then again, the 88 cadets at the College don’t often have typical college experiences.
At 5:50 a.m, three times a week, the members of the Alpha Company are doing sit-ups, push-ups and running. Physical training is mandatory, and it often weeds out the less-committed freshmen early on in the semester.
Cadet P.J. Judge ’13 said he decided to give ROTC a shot because of the physical training.
“I was one of the kids that thought I would just try ROTC out,” Judge said. “I had a scholarship for the first year, and then figured I’d get in shape and stop.”
Many freshman cadets, especially out-of-state students, are initially attracted to ROTC by the opportunity to receive a full scholarship. Those, like Judge, who receive these full scholarships for their freshman year have until sophomore year to withdraw from the ROTC program without having to pay back their ROTC scholarship.
Judge said he quickly got into shape and had no problem passing the monthly Army Physical Fitness Test, which consists of timed push-ups, sit-ups and a two-mile run. Although few cadets would say that waking up before sunrise to do physical training is fun, they say their fellow cadets help get them through the early mornings.
“We often have breakfast after physical training,” Judge said. “You see these people three times a week ,and you see them around campus in uniforms. We have to work together so we don’t fail. Some of my closest friends on campus are ROTC cadets.”
Although there are more men than women enrolled in the College’s ROTC program, there are a sizable number of female cadets.
“When I started ROTC, I was surprised at how many girls there were, but they do every bit as well as the guys do,” Judge said.
Female cadets are held to the same standards as are male cadets.
“I do know how to shoot a gun,” Cadet Kelly Champman ’13 said. “I can hold my own.”
The only exception to this gender equality is that the Army Physical Fitness Test has a different scoring system for men and women.
“There is a stigma attached to being a girl in the ROTC,” Chapman said. “Some casual guy friends don’t say ‘hi’ when they see me in uniform. They don’t know how to react. But it’s not only the guys, it’s the same with some girls.”
The weekly leadership labs are entirely organized and run by seniors or Military Science 4th Years, MS-4s for short, to give the younger cadets realistic, practical training.
“For a land navigation lab, we are given a compass, map, protractor and points on a map of Matoaka Woods,” Judge said. “We plot out the points on the map, where we need to go, and how far to go into the Woods. We count our paces and check the compass to find the posts [from the map] in the woods.”
During the labs, MS-3s are graded on their leadership of first and second year cadets. As in the classroom, labs are another way to stress the importance of leadership and chain of command in the U.S. Army.
Every semester, the Revolutionary Guard Battalion, which is made up of the Charlie Company from Christopher Newport University and the Alpha Company from the College, go to a nearby army base for a weekend of intensive field training.
Cadets practice essential field skills such as setting up a base. They also participate in simulations that mirror real life situations such as landing in villages and attempting to make peace with the local inhabitants, played by MS-4s.
“They don’t make it easy,” Chapman said.
These exercises work, like any basic training, to prepare future officers to endure mental and physical strain, such as sleep deprivation, while organizing and executing a mission.
“You’re filthy by the end, you smell terrible, and [you] are physically and mentally exhausted,” Chapman said. “You have a weird sense of fulfillment at the end of the weekend.”
As cadets progress through the ROTC program, for many it becomes more than just a way to pay their way through college.
Judge, who initially was hesitant to complete four years of ROTC, said he is now dedicated to his future with the U.S. Army.
“When you put the uniform on, you’re representing the U.S. Army,” Judge said. “I’m still an individual, but with certain serious obligations.”
After graduation, ROTC cadetsare commissioned into the U.S. Army as 2nd Lieutenants with the option of serving active duty or reserve forces for six to eight years.
“After finishing the ROTC program, you can lead 17- or 18-year-old soldiers and be effective, confident leaders,” Chapman said.
Chapman hopes to specialize either in military intelligence or in aviation. Both of her parents were in the military, and she hopes that her time in the Army will allow her to continue moving. She has no misgivings about serving in the Middle East, or anywhere else she may be sent. Chapman doesn’t want a lifetime career in the Army, but hopes to transition into the government.
Cadets at the College must find a unique balance between being a cadet and a student. In addition to a normal course load and extracurriculars, cadets must take military science classes — and participate in practical labs and physical fitness training.
In military science classes, ROTC cadets are introduced to a broad range of topics pertinent to the Army, such as leadership, suicide prevention, terrorism and dealing with civilians. These classes are meant to give cadets a breadth of necessary army knowledge.
“[The military science classes] are interesting because [they’re] something that a typical class wouldn’t teach you. Because of my military background, I can provide a unique military point of view, which is useful in many classes especially when issues of politics and military arise,” Chapman, who plans on majoring in international relations, said.
Although a typical week for ROTC students consists of military science classes, early morning physical training sessions and a leadership lab — not to mention the weekend of field training held each semester — they only receive a single credit hour for their ROTC work each semester. During junior and senior year, this increases to two credits per semester. ROTC students do not technically receive credit for the 6 a.m. physical training.
“I think having [the ROTC program] as one credit is fair because we have to live up to the high academic caliber [of the College],” Judge said.
Judge’s stance toward the academic aspect of ROTC illustrates how dedicated the students are to the program. It offers cadets a unique college experience that will greatly influence their futures.
“ROTC sets me apart from other college students. I’m proud of it,” Judge said.