BY ERICH MEHNERT
Published April 14, 2009
Flying faster than the speed of sound, replying “YES SIR!” to every command, training earlier in the mornings than the average student wakes up for class. Is this what you think of when you hear R-O-T-C? Well, you’re right… sort of. You have definitely seen us, the ones who walk around in our “blues” every Thursday with shiny black shoes and meticulously pressed uniforms. You definitely have some ideas about the kind of people who call themselves cadets do and stand for. Let me tell you a little bit about why we do the things we do and who we really are — and then you can decide if your notions are correct.
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No, we are not the Army. Yes, we are students. No, we do not fly for the Air Force… yet (and that’s only some of us). We are not ultra-conservative, card-carrying members of the National Rifle Association. We did not join the Air Force because we like or enjoy war. We live in the dorms and off campus, just like you—not in North Hall, the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) building between the Natural History Museum and the Dental School. We belong to various campus organizations including fraternities, sororities and varsity athletics. We DO see you staring at us — but it’s OK, we’re used to it.
The purpose of Air Force ROTC is to utilize the knowledge and technical abilities of college students and turn those students into leaders who will serve to protect the interests of the United States of America. Have you ever seen the “Bourne” trilogy? In the movie, Matt Damon’s character undergoes intense training as an assassin to become “better” in every way. That is not at all what we do. We have engineers, political science majors, nursing students and movement science majors. We are represented in each of the University’s undergraduate programs.
Everyone has a personal and diverse level of expertise that he or she brings to the Air Force, and through ROTC, an essential foundation is instilled and practiced. These students will all move into what we call the “active duty” Air Force. We will be officers first and our particular specialty second, so we need to go through a common training program — not Jason Bourne training. Some of our “training” is surprisingly very similar to leadership and management courses offered at the Ross School of Business. We learn how to problem solve in high-intensity environments so as cadets, we can keep our cool and make sound decisions when under a great deal of pressure. Then we take it a step further and complete in-depth, specialized training such as small team tactics, cyber warfare simulations and cultural immersion programs in places like Brazil and South Africa.
All of these complimentary experiences and the professional development we get from being part of Air Force ROTC really is awesome. In fact, it is the best education I’ve had. But the best part of Air Force ROTC is the connection that is developed between all of us. Nothing brings people closer than enduring a common hardship. Working with driven, goal-oriented, funny-as-hell individuals creates a bond that will only continue to grow when we join the Air Force upon graduation.
Yeah, we wake up early and work out, do all this extracurricular training and wear uniforms once or twice a week. But we are students just like everyone else here. We will graduate with a degree and commission into the Air Force, just as you will graduate and begin working as professionals in your field. What separates us is the amount of responsibility we will have from the get-go and the enormity of our pursuits. About 10 percent of us will fly a $130 million aircraft. Note, also, that not everyone in the Air Force flies. Some of us will head up multi-million dollar acquisition projects, while others will lead the world’s finest warriors into an austere environment to secure territory for extracting civilians from a war zone. When we decide it is time to leave the military, whether that’s after four years or 24 years, we will have acquired a long list of accomplishments that would be unattainable for those who didn’t wake up at the crack of dawn for four years.
That’s what Air Force ROTC means. What are you doing next year?