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Rectified: How 9/11 changed the University's Army ROTC program

Photo Illustration by Teresa Mathew and Alicia Kovalcheck
Twelve Years Later Buy this photo

By Jennifer Calfas, Daily Staff Reporter
Published September 9, 2013

Captain Albert Park kept a quote in the back of his head while deployed in Afghanistan in 2007. The quote — said by Captain Ronald Speirs, a World War II veteran played by Matthew Settle in the HBO miniseries “Band of Brothers” — motivated him while completing his duty as a U.S. soldier.

Photo by Teresa Mathew
“A carabiner is a metaphor for my time at Michigan because it speaks to the idea of limits. Michigan has pushed me beyond what I thought I could achieve, learn and feel. It has pushed me down a path of becoming a self-aware, more acute leader — traits that will allow me to be a better officer for those entrusted to my judgement” — Matthew Blanchard, Engineering Senior and Army ROTC cadet battalion commander
Photo by Teresa Mathew
“Like everyone else I’m really busy in my profession, and I can’t afford to be late because I’m setting an example for my students and staff. I live, breathe, succeed and fail by what’s in here” — Lieutenant Colonel Allana Bryant
Photo by Teresa Mathew
“Aside from joining the Army, M-Run is the best organization I’ve ever joined. You’re with like-minded people; people who like to run and have fun” — Captain Albert Park
Photo by Teresa Mathew
“This (a mirror bearing the words ‘To teach is to touch a life forever’) was given to me with a letter by a former student who told me she wanted to thank me for teaching her what a beautiful person she was. I keep it with me as a reminder to always do my best for my students” — Operations Officer Wayne Doyle
Photo Courtesy of Captain Albert Park from his tour in Afghanistan
Photo Courtesy of Captain Albert Park from his tour in Afghanistan

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“We’re all scared. You hid in that ditch because you think there’s still hope. But Blithe, the only hope you have is to accept the fact that you’re already dead. And the sooner you accept that, the sooner you’ll be able to function as a soldier is supposed to function. Without mercy. Without compassion. Without remorse. All war depends on it.”

In 2006, Park — who was commissioned at California State University, Fullerton in 2005 — served as the headquarters commandant for a joint international post in Iraq. He spent most of his time maintaining logistics and ensuring operations ran smoothly and without violent interactions. When he was sent to Afghanistan in 2007, however, he began to see bloodshed first hand.

Stationed in Jalalabad, Afghanistan — the future base of “Operation Geronimo,” which ended with Osama bin Laden’s death in 2011 — Park’s daily patrols to villages brought frequent encounters with the enemy, the anti-coalition militia (ACM) otherwise known as the Taliban. Park hoped to transfer to a different post. The attacks he experienced, which could occur daily, involved firearms and rockets. Park described the daily action as “exhilarating,” though “definitely scary.”

“If it’s my time, it’s my time; I just let that be what I operated off, because if you’re scared, you can’t operate,” Park said. “Every time that you go out on patrol, you hope that you come back alive. You just take it day by day. You can’t really think about the future.”

After completing his work in Afghanistan in 2008, Park was deployed to Haiti in 2010 to provide humanitarian care after the 2010 earthquake and sent to Iraq, again, in 2011. Park then had a choice to make: his next assignment.

From a list of 72 possible locations for his next chapter, one stood out as Park’s first choice: the operations and executive officer and assistant professor for the University’s Reserve Officer Training Core program.

The aftermath

On Saturday, September 15, 2001, a football game was scheduled. The Big House was filled to the brim, but the atmosphere was quite different than a normal game. Senior Vice Provost Lester Monts remembers the Army ROTC cadets and midshipmen raising the flag at the game while the national anthem played, eliciting an out-of-character noiseless response from the audience.

“When the colors came out of the tunnel, there was almost complete silence in the stadium,” Monts said. “I never heard the national anthem sung with such gusto as I heard on that particular day … And that’s just a description of their patriotism and appreciation for what the military does for them and alike.”

Since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, the enrollment in the University’s ROTC program has increased — with 555 total members in 2001 growing to 898 in 2013. While enrollment comes in peaks and valleys, its membership flourishes with above 800 total members enrolled each year since 2010.

Established in 1917, following the implementation of the National Defense Act of 1916, the ROTC program has commissioned almost 500,000 officers since enrollment records were documented starting 1920.

The United States Army Cadet Command determines the curriculum for the Army ROTC programs at universities nationwide. While many of the programs, training exercises and classes have remained similar to or the same as before 9/11, current members participate in the program with more of a focus on effectively using first aid and identifying the enemy.

Operations Officer Wayne Doyle, who has worked at the University since the late 1990s, said he noticed the shift in the program’s curriculum to better prepare for finding non-state actors — like the Taliban — that aren’t uniformed and easily identifiable in a crowd, compared to the large unit formations the U.S. military has traditionally faced.

“How can you fight them without causing civil damage at the same time?” Doyle said. “It takes a different mindset to do that than when I grew up in the Army.”

The goal is to create tactics that cause as little harm to civilian populations as possible, according to Doyle.

To pursue this objective, the Raiders team — an extracurricular club that 40 cadets, including some from Michigan State University — completed a mock night raid similar to the one performed by the United States Navy SEALs that killed Osama bin Laden. The club completes different exercises each year, but the objective is to allow cadets the opportunity to execute a realistic Army operation on their own.