Their camouflaged uniforms stick out against a sea of t-shirt and jeans at universities across the country, but what else sets ROTC students apart? I’m Chasity Mayes. In this segment of our Sense of Community series featuring college life in the Ozarks, I spent some time getting to know what the Reserve Officer Training Corps program, or ROTC is all about.
If you’re familiar with the campus of Missouri State University, you know it’s not uncommon to pass by one of its165 ROTC students while you’re headed to class. But did you ever stop to think about how college life might be different if you were one of them?
Travis Clark is a 2010 graduate of MSU’s ROTC program, and he’s currently a recruiter on the campus. He says minus the camo and early morning work out routine with over 100 of his closest friends, the differences are small. But, he says that doesn’t keep people from wondering.
“We’d see people walking around in uniform on Thursday and [they’d] be like, “why are you wearing that?” And they’d have absolutely no idea there is an ROTC program here and how involved we are with the school and their events. We do color guard. We do bearfest. We do all kinds of stuff. We’re really involved with the community and the school,” says Clark.
MSU’s ROTC program is the largest one in the state outshining Mizzou by mere 10 students as of this year. Clark says there are around four non-traditional ROTC students enrolled this semester. Some of them have already spent time in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. Before his 2010 graduation from MSU, Clark himself was considered to be a “non-traditional” student. It was back in 2002, close to the September 11th terror attacks when he began to consider a career in the Army. With just two years of college under his belt, Clark broke the news to his family that he’d decided to fight for his country.
“But I remember I jumped into bed with them and they were like, “What are you doing?” I was like, “Well I’ve got something to talk to you about,” and I just kind of told them right there. And my mom just automatically kind of teared up and my dad was like, “ok.” I will support you no matter what. I kind of had to take my mom off to the side and be like, “It’s going to be ok.” And then she found out I was going to be some Infantry guy and she really lost it. But, she’s ok,” says Clark.
Two deployments to Iraq later and Clark wanted to finish what he started. After looking into several different programs he decided ROTC was the best fit for him and with the Army picking up the bill, it was an easy choice.
“I heard a lot of good things about the ROTC program. There’s a bunch of different scholarship opportunities that the Army offers. You could’ve done OCS [Officer Candidate School] I could’ve done Direct Commission, but my main goal was to come back to school to finish my degree,” says Clark.
Unlike run of the mill military academies, ROTC offers its students the same freedoms that other college students have while preparing them for their careers in the military. Besides having more freedom, ROTC allows you to choose your major and the only requirement is that you have a military science minor. Clark graduated with a degree in psychology. He says although it’s not completely different from your everyday college student lifestyle, there are differences.
“You do PT three days a week that’s Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at about 6:15 in the morning. So, right there there’s a big difference. And then we have the classes throughout the week and we have a lab from 15:30-- that’s 3:30 to about five on Thursdays. They get compensated for their time, but it’s a little bit more demanding than what a regular college student would have to go through,” says Clark.
Clark also says that although the ROTC program is time consuming, most of its students rest assured knowing that whenever they graduate, they’re promised a job. He says that’s the payoff for doing labs on Thursday afternoons when other students are playing intramural sports. It’s considered job security.
Clark hopes to put his new degree to use later on in life, but he says at this point, he’s happy with what he’s doing.
“The military has something that’s called psychological operations and someday I would like to get into that specialty, but for right now I’m pretty content with being a medivac pilot,” says Clark.
In the end it’s the teamwork, leadership, and management skills that former and current ROTC students say you can’t get anywhere else. Austin Truelove is a senior ROTC student at College of the Ozarks in Point Lookout. And just like Clark, his reason for joining the program is based on the education you receive and the opportunity to be surrounded by people who are passionate about being the best.
“I figured if there was a war to be fought I would like to be a part of a group that really appreciated doing their job to the best they could,” says Truelove.
Truelove is one semester away from graduating with a degree in business administration. Currently, he’s involved with the military police department, but when his military career is over, he’s got another plan that will put the degree he earned during his time in ROTC to good use.
“My parents are missionaries in Haiti. That’s where I eventually would like to end up. If not, overseas or something. The business degree is to help with my overall plan of starting businesses in third-world nations,” says Truelove.
Truelove says there are many things people don’t understand about the ROTC program, but one of the most important things to be aware of is that you don’t have to enlist in the Army in order to participate in the ROTC program. Those who are interested can experience the program for the first two years before they have to commit to anything more. Both participants in the program say learning to be a great leader in the ROTC helps put to rest the fear of actually going to war.
For KSMU’s Sense of Community Series I’m Chasity Mayes.