Upsurge in Army ROTC
By Peggy Binette, firstname.lastname@example.org, 803-777-7704
Blair Boler knew he was making an important decision to join the Army ROTC at USC, but it was a journey he knew he was ready to take.
“My brother told me that I made a huge decision. It was then that I really got excited about bettering myself and being part of something bigger for my country,” Boler said.
Boler is among 120 students in the University of South Carolina’s Army ROTC, a program that has grown 214 percent since 2005-06. The increase in enrollment combined with a surge of officer commissions places the program third in the nation for program growth.
“Quality recruits quality, and that’s what we’re doing,” Lt. Col. John D. Wright, battalion commander and chairman of the military science department. “We are working with quality individuals and teaching them the best leadership and training and combining that with the talents they have so that they can walk out with a diploma as an officer.”
Wright attributes the enrollment growth, in part, to the swell of pride in the military after 9/11 and to students and soldiers wanting to serve the greater good.
Anthony Needler, a sophomore athletic training major, knew from age 10 that the military was for him.
“I’ve always wanted to be in the military and give back to people around me,” Needler said. “It was like a calling for me to do something medically in the military. Athletic training is new in the military, and I’ll be able to help create policy and make a difference as a first responder in treating, diagnosing and fixing an injury.”
While the reasons most students choose ROTC have not changed – to serve others and country, to develop leadership or to continue a strong military family history – the impact of a struggling economy and rising tuition also are factors.
“I didn’t want to burden my parents with the expense,” said Boler, who coupled his academic scholarships with an ROTC scholarship to cover his tuition.
Caroline Underwood, a freshman biology major from Bedford, Texas, said she chose USC from 11 colleges because it was the least expensive. Underwood’s family’s tradition in the army extends back to the American Revolution and was a driver in her decision to choose Army ROTC.
Wright said ROTC scholarships are competitive and vary in size, and only about 26 percent of students in the USC program earn a ROTC scholarship. Students who complete their academic degree and fulfill all ROTC requirements earn a rank of second lieutenant in the Army and can choose one of two tracks: active duty or the National Guard or Reserves.
USC is exceeding its mission for commissions and ranks No. 8 in the U.S. for its increase in commissions.
ROTC requires students to participate in three hours of physical training and attend a leadership class each week. Additionally, they spend one weekend each semester at Fort Jackson and volunteer at numerous events on campus and in the community. Juniors and seniors take on additional leadership positions.
They also lend their leadership skills by getting involved in campus life.
“Lt. Col. Wright is a big advocate for us to be involved in student organizations,” said Needler, who is a member of student government and the residence hall association (RHA). “Balancing academics and organizations with ROTC is the biggest challenge. We’re learning and practicing our leadership style and how to be an example at all times.”
And, that’s what Wright wanted when he arrived in 2009 from Fort Knox to take his first college assignment at USC.
“My goal three years ago was for people to know and understand that ROTC on campus is good for USC,” Wright said.
Jerry Hinton, a senior accounting major, said the fullness of ROTC and college life has led him to make “smart goals.”
“I am more disciplined and more responsible. In your junior year in ROTC you rotate positions and become responsible for different people. You also are a mentor for the younger cadets,” Hinton said.
Captain Ervin Beasley said it’s that moment when a ROTC student puts others first that is the most gratifying for him.
“It’s exciting to see that light click on, the first time they step up and are meeting the needs of others first,” Beasley said. “It’s rewarding, and it gives me hope for the future.”
D’Anna Hunter, a senior psychology major, enlisted in the Army after high school and was deployed to Kuwait before entering USC’s ROTC program.
“I always wanted to come to USC,” Hunter said. “In Kuwait I realized how the military worked, and that’s when I fell in love with it. But I’ve learned more in ROTC about leadership than being an enlisted soldier. It’s given me the experience as a leader.”
That leadership training and development complements the university’s emphasis on student leadership.
“In a university focused on developing the leadership skills of all of their students, the college is proud to serve as the academic home of our reserve officer training programs,” said Mary Anne Fitzpatrick, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.
Wright looks forward to December’s commissioning ceremony.
“We are exceeding our commissioning mission. Our cadets come back and tell us, ‘We were ready. What we got at USC was what we needed,” Wright said. “That makes me proud.”
As battalion commander, Wright oversees a total of 226 cadets at Benedict College, Morris College, Coastal Carolina University, Francis Marion University and USC.
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