A war correspondent's critical look at the dual lives of ROTC student-cadets
Undergrads with guns. That is how war correspondent David Axe summarizes the bifurcated existence of some thirty thousand cadets currently participating in Reserve Officers Training Corps programs at 270 U.S. colleges and universities. In Army 101, Axe takes readers inside an Army ROTC program in his investigation into the training and lives of student-cadets being hardened into the next generation of volunteer citizen-soldiers.
Drawing heavily from candid interviews conducted with cadets and trainers of the Gamecock Battalion at the University of South Carolina, Army 101 traces the experiences of a representative mix of students—freshmen to seniors of both sexes and many races—essentially minoring in the military while also pursuing regular undergraduate degrees in diverse fields. Axe invites us along to witness the quagmire of confusion in a nighttime training exercise, the immersion into procedures and jargon of the classroom, and the high aspirations of candidates at Airborne School. Replete with a vivid account of the annual Ranger Challenge—the varsity sport of ROTC—and a campus visit from the commander in chief, George W. Bush, Axe's narrative follows the unit through the exercises and experiences that are designed to recast the cadets as junior officers in America's long war on terrorism. Not all guns and marches, the volume also explores the rivalry and revelry that define the cadets' off-hours as much as they characterize the lives of all college students.
Respectful of his subjects' motivations and achievements, Axe is also critical of the training they receive. ROTC is an uneasy marriage of civilian and military existence and, according to Axe, produces officers who can demonstrate the best and worst aspects of both worlds. His investigation exposes chinks in the armor and draws attention to program weaknesses, from the physical and emotional strain of dual lives to sexual harassment, war protests, disheartening morale, and other reasons why cadets wash out. Axe also interrogates military and government policies that unequally distribute the rewards and responsibilities of service.
Army 101 is an insider's look at the current state of training and the cultural values being taught to those who will soon join the ranks of nearly ten thousand ROTC graduates already serving in activity duty around the globe. This is the story of the USC Gamecock Battalion—undergrads with guns.
David Axe is a freelance journalist and war correspondent. His coverage of U.S. military operations in Iraq has been featured on C-SPAN and Salon.com and in the Washington Times and Village Voice. He is the author of War Fix, a graphic novel war memoir. Axe lives in Washington, D.C.
"Through candid interviews with a representative group of ROTC cadets, David Axe gives us an honest portrait of the young people who choose to become Army officers in this age of the global war on terror and willingly sign up to confront the hazards of deadly combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. By extension, Axe grants us insight into the overall ethos of our all-volunteer military forces in these first years of the twenty-first century."—John W. Gordon, professor of national security affairs, United States Marine Corps Command and Staff College
"David Axe offers an insightful look at a premier ROTC program, and the making of the minds and bodies of the young men and women who will be the backbone of the next generation of Army officers….The officer candidate cameos he shapes are of highly motivated, physically fit young men and women but with a dubious facility for critical thought. Army 101 is well worth reading for what this holds for the future."—Walter C. Rodgers, former senior intelligence correspondent for CNN and author of Sleeping with Custer and the 7th Cavalry: An Imbedded Reporter in Iraq
"Axe's concrete prose, his lack of prejudice and partisanship, and his respect for every cadet and army educator he limns, as well as for the ROTC itself, make this massively informative little book great reading."—Booklist (starred review)