Soldiering on: the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force provide scholarships and leaders through on-campus training. Jon Gardiner.
Soldiering on: the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force provide scholarships and leaders through on-campus training. Jon Gardiner.

Being All They Can Be

Some Duke students march to a different cadence. This year, Navy ROTC has fifty-seven midshipmen, Army ROTC has twenty-one cadets, and Air Force ROTC is home to thirty-one.
Writer: 
March 31, 2002

When John "J.W." Stigi visited Duke on a sunny spring day during his junior year of high school, he fell in love with the school and knew he had to figure out a way to attend. So he headed over to the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps offices in the North Building. Within thirty minutes, he knew the Navy was for him.

Stigi is now a senior majoring in political science. If all goes as he plans, around this time next year he'll be spending a good part of his day in the back seat of an F-14 Tomcat fighter jet, learning to operate its weapons and radar systems as a Naval flight officer. It's the culmination of four years at Duke as a Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps midshipman. He's finishing up his Duke education as battalion commander--the senior-most student. After he graduates in May, he'll be commissioned as an officer and then head to Pensacola, Florida, for, he hopes, fighter training.

"I've had a lot of leadership opportunities," says Stigi, who has also been president of his fraternity, Pi Kappa Alpha. "What the Naval ROTC program is about is instilling the core values of the Navy--honor, courage, commitment."

It's the kind of sentiment you hear from ROTC students, instructors, and alumni when you ask them about it. Whether retirees or students who have only been at Duke a few months, they all talk about values, pride, esprit de corps, leadership, commitment, discipline. And though they come to the ROTC program from different paths--some looking for scholarship money, others seeking a career in the military, some stumbling onto it after arriving at Duke--they all seem to end up talking about those intangible, but vital, parts of the experience.

This year, there are more than a hundred students enrolled in the Naval, Army, and Air Force ROTC programs. Each year's class of seniors will send new officers into military service--some into the reserves, but most into active duty for four or more years. Many of them will follow in the footsteps of other Duke alumni and spend their careers in the military; others will serve out their commitment, and maybe a few extra years, and then move into the civilian world equipped with the kind of leadership and management experience the business world loves.

I had no intention of making the military my career," says Jack Calvert '58, a Naval ROTC graduate. Calvert spent thirty-four years in the Navy, retiring in 1992 as a rear admiral. He says what he discovered, as do many others, is that military service provides leadership training and experience to new college graduates at a younger age than they'd likely get outside the military. It provides a ready-made social environment and a work environment where the focus isn't on getting ahead, but on accomplishing the mission.

"There's a lot of subtle differences," Calvert says. For instance, officers of the same age get paid the same. There's competition to advance, but because the military is so large--and structured--behaviors that could harm the mission are less likely.

Calvert's perspective comes from age and experience. Students, who haven't yet seen active duty themselves, give more personal reasons. Air Force ROTC cadet Sara Seneschal, a junior majoring in psychology, grew up with it. "I'm an Air Force brat, so it's always been an important part of my life," she says. "It's something I've always wanted to do."

Around third or fourth grade, Seneschal says she realized that she didn't need to marry a military guy to live the military lifestyle she enjoyed with her family. She could sign up herself. "You live in foreign countries. Before I was nine, I had done all of Europe and half of Asia," she says. "I'm a lot more open to differences [in people] than some of the people I grew up with in high school."

Seneschal says she's drawn to the camaraderie, community, and values of service. "I chose the Air Force over any other branch because of the focus [on the family].... There's a sense of dedication and community that runs deeper than yourself." She wanted to be a pilot, but an injury disqualified her from that. Instead, she plans to become a physical therapist and work in an Air Force hospital after graduating and becoming an officer.

Colonel Dennis Porter, the Air Force officer who runs Duke's Air Force ROTC program, says military culture is a big draw for many students. "Being a part of that culture where you are focused on a mission, accomplishing something with a group of people. I think that has an effect on everybody that goes through the program--that is infectious, that is contagious."

The idea of educating military officers at civilian universities is as old as the Union--by some accounts, the first proposals for military training at universities date to the 1780s. But Reserve Officer Training Corps programs, first for the Army and later for other services, got their real start in formalized military training programs before the Civil War.

Time and again throughout its history, the United States has found that the service academies--such as West Point and the Naval Academy--can't produce enough college-educated officers. ROTC programs now take up the bulk of that task.

ROTC came to Duke in July 1941, when the nation was on the verge of entering World War II and needed to produce many more officers, in a hurry, for a fast-growing military. Naval ROTC came first; it's the youngest of the three ROTC programs nationally, but the oldest at Duke. Naval ROTC was first created at six universities in 1926. Duke was one of eight schools that began new NROTC programs in the early Forties in preparation for World War II. It started with a hundred students, but by July 1943, a continuous twelve-month training program was producing more than a thousand officers a year.

Soldiering on: the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force provide scholarships and leaders through on-campus training

Soldiering on: the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force provide scholarships and leaders through on-campus training. Jon Gardiner.

Though not as many new officers were needed once World War II ended, the birth of the Cold War meant that ROTC programs continued to receive resources from the Pentagon. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Air Force ROTC got its start at Duke. It wasn't until 1981 that the Army ROTC program arrived; at first an extension of the North Carolina State University program, it became an independent detachment by fall 1982.

None of the detachments at Duke is large. This year NROTC has fifty-seven midshipmen, AROTC has twenty-one cadets from Duke and another fourteen from North Carolina Central University, and AFROTC is home to thirty-one cadets.

Many students in ROTC participate for all four years of their undergraduate education on a full scholarship, but some participate for fewer years with less financial support. A full ROTC scholarship typically pays tuition, an allowance for textbooks, and a monthly stipend that increases as students get closer to graduation. The only thing it doesn't cover is room and board.

ROTC students typically take an extra class each semester that includes one or two weekly lectures and periodic lab sessions. The lecture sessions are much like typical academic classes, says Lieutenant Colonel Todd Sherrill, the Army ROTC detachment's commanding officer and Duke's top military science instructor. "Cadets write papers, take tests, present projects," he says. They are generally required to wear uniforms to class only once a week. They use military protocol to address instructors: "sir," "ma'am," or by rank.

During lecture sessions, students learn military history, culture, law, and traditions, as well as leadership theory and ethics. During lab sessions, they work on such skills as drilling and parade. Army ROTC students, for instance, learn land navigation and small-unit tactics as part of their undergraduate curriculum. As students progress from freshmen to seniors, the classes progress, so that by the time they graduate they have the basic theory and background they'll need as officers.

"I've told a lot of people that I went to a very good school and I learned a lot in my education," says James Morgan B.S.E. '01, who's starting Air Force flight training this spring. "But the things I learned in ROTC--the life skills, the discipline--have already benefited me, and will benefit me far more in life than anything else." Though Morgan has spent his first few months on active duty in a "casual status" assignment as he waited to go to flight school to begin his pilot training, he says he has already had a chance to learn the leadership principles he learned in ROTC as an awards officer at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida.

Maneuvers: from the classroom to the field

Maneuvers: from the classroom to the field. Les Todd.

The terrorist attacks of September 11 and their aftermath have brought a renewed focus on the U.S. military, and a stronger sense of mission to some ROTC students. "There seems to be a more enhanced sense of purpose to what you're doing," says Tom Jenkins, a senior majoring in comparative area studies who will be commissioned as an Air Force officer after graduating this spring. "My opinion [of military service] has not really changed very much. But it's giving me more reason to do it."

"That's why I'm here in the first place," says Daniel Barrett, a sophomore majoring in chemical engineering. "It doesn't change my sentiments at all. It just changes everyone else's sentiments about what we're doing."

All the extra media attention that the military has gotten after the start of military action in Afghanistan and elsewhere might be boosting ROTC, says Captain Dennis Haines of the Naval ROTC program. "I think there's a little bit of a renewed sense of interest in the military," he says. "When you have the media doing human-interest stories on military members, the quality of the military [personnel] tends to come out more."

Morgan, the soon-to-be Air Force pilot, says September 11 energized him about his job. "I was more fired up," he says. "I wanted to start training right away." But it also reminded him of what the military, ultimately, is all about. "It's really made me think more about the possibility of combat, and if I would have to do something to take someone else's life."

Sherrill, the Army ROTC commander, says the terrorist attacks and subsequent military operations have re-energized the way young people feel about the military in a way that hasn't been true since the end of the Cold War. Interest in Army ROTC in general was down in the late Nineties, for which, he says, conventional wisdom would blame the go-go economy of that period. But he thinks the Army's recruiting downturn had more to do with the lack of a clear enemy. "At the end of the Cold War, the military remained as relevant as ever, but the perception among the population was that the military was somewhat irrelevant. As a young man in high school, my own drive [to go to West Point] was because of the Cold War."

Whether it's the war on terrorism or the lackluster economy, enrollments in Army ROTC programs at Duke and other universities are on the rise. Though for many students, the scholarship money that helped them afford Duke was a major factor, there are clearly other reasons. Not only do ROTC students talk about the values, culture, career path, and social environment of the military as a reason to join, many students don't join until after they get to Duke--sometimes well after.

Andrew Lotze, a senior majoring in economics and political science, will be commissioned as an Army officer after "advanced camp" this summer. He'll need the extra training in part because he hasn't participated in Army ROTC every year. His first class, the second semester of his freshman year, was "Small Unit Tactics." "I signed up for the class because I thought it sounded cool," he says. "It was totally interesting to me." In fact, although he's been participating in Army ROTC since that first class, he wasn't formally enrolled in the program until last fall.

Money, Lotze says, was never a motivator. As a result of his unusual status, though, he didn't take classes his junior year and didn't participate in summer programs--hence the extra training this summer after graduation before he'll be commissioned. But his less-intense participation hasn't stopped him from taking on leadership roles. This year he's the Duke AROTC unit's executive officer. "I have to coordinate and execute a lot of different things that the battalion needs to get done," he explains. "It's taught me a lot about the organizational structure of a group that has to get a job done."

Of the twenty-one Duke AROTC students, Sherrill says, four of them are not on any Army scholarship. Students can take freshman- and sophomore-level classes without enrolling in the program. Army ROTC even has an option to fulfill the training in two years. Students can go to a summer camp between their sophomore and junior years and get full credit for the first two years, come back and enter the ROTC curriculum in their junior year, and then get commissioned upon graduation. Those last two years include the full scholarship--tuition, books and a monthly stipend for spending money.

Sherrill, who says he's trying to get the word out about the two-year program, says the military can do the same for graduate students, in effect, getting Uncle Sam to pick up the bill for a master's degree if the student will sign up.

NROTC and AFROTC offer similar programs. The Air Force ROTC, for instance, advertises a one-year "express scholarship," for students in certain majors, that will provide support for a year of school -- the senior year or for graduate studies--even if the student doesn't have any military background. Naval ROTC has a traditional four-year program for prospective sailors and marines, as well as a two-year scholarship program for students who've already completed their freshman and sophomore years.

Financial advantages to ROTC students notwithstanding, college campuses have a reputation--perhaps because of student activism in the Sixties and Seventies--for harboring anti-military sentiment. But ROTC students and instructors at Duke say they haven't encountered hostility or personal attacks, and barely any anti-military sentiment in any form. "This has been the most pleasant surprise to me," says Sherrill, who arrived at Duke last August for his three-year assignment as ROTC detachment commander. And he has taught at West Point, obviously a place that has never harbored anti-military feeling. "I fully expected opposition, and so far I haven't experienced any."

Stigi, the Naval ROTC senior, says he's never encountered any hostility toward his ROTC involvement. "A lot of curiosity," he says, "especially being in a fraternity, a lot from my own brothers. This is the only time they have any sense of the military and what that's about." Barrett, the Air Force ROTC cadet, says he gotten only neutral reactions. "I've never had anyone harass me or say anything that made me uncomfortable."

In fact, some cadets report quite the opposite of hostility. AFROTC cadet Seneschal describes receiving "a lot of respect, a lot of admiration." Since September's terrorist attacks, says AFROTC commander Porter, "There's been an upsurge in patriotism throughout the country. My perception is we are tolerated, even welcomed, by the majority of the student body. The administration is fully supportive."

That's not to say that ROTC comes with unqualified support on campus. In a March letter in The Chronicle, longtime biology professor Peter Klopfer said the presence of ROTC brings up issues of faculty prerogatives. "The faculty who direct the military program are, unlike others of us, subjects of an external authority and are only secondarily answerable to the university," he wrote. While acknowledging that many officers "are competent scholars, whose specialized knowledge makes them treasured teachers and valuable colleagues," he said he would challenge the view "that sees nothing amiss with having faculty appointed from without, whether the appointing body be the military or any other extra-university organization. Faculty governance--including the control of course content--has long been viewed as the essential element in free universities, and the appointment of our colleagues in ROTC--who, while subject to university approval, are nonetheless chosen by the military--runs counter to this important tradition."

ROTC officials play up the value that military experience is given in the business world as one of the prime advantages of participating in ROTC. Shannon Huffman '93 majored in English at Duke and then began a career flying Apache helicopters for the Army. Combat aircraft positions were opened to women in 1993. Huffman was the ninth woman to complete Apache training, and the first woman Apache officer stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. She spent six months in Bosnia deployed as an Apache platoon commander, and later went to South Korea; she was the first woman to serve as an Apache line company commander in that country.

While at Duke, Huffman got her first glimpse of the Apache, an attack helicopter, at the National Guard Apache unit stationed at Raleigh-Durham International Airport. She says she knew right away what she wanted to do. "I thought it would be incredibly demanding, incredibly exciting, and incredibly challenging. It was incredible leadership training."

Huffman, who retired from active duty last year, is now pursuing her M.B.A. at Dartmouth College's Tuck School of Business. "Probably 5 percent of my business-school class is military." Her résumé includes such lines as "Commanded an attack helicopter company of twenty-seven pilots and mechanics"; "Managed all aspects of unit operations, including unit training and maintenance of eight Apache helicopters and $120 million of equipment"; and "Led a multi-national team of four soldiers, managing all supply, transportation, and financial support for a 300-person attack helicopter battalion in Korea."

"That experience is clearly highly valued," says Huffman. "It's clear that businesses are looking for people who are leaders who can work well with diverse groups of people in teams."

 

Tosczak is an editor and writer living in Chapel Hill.