Correction Appended: This story’s photo caption misspelled the name of ROTC cadet Stephen Taylor.
Stephen Taylor said the Army has increased ROTC benefits. The fact should have been attributed to David Young.
They sit fully uniformed in Thursday classes. In the warmer months, they rappel down the walls of the School of Dentistry. If you’re in the Central Campus Recreation Building early enough – 7 a.m. early – you’ll see them completing physical training.
These students, members of the University’s Army Reserve Officer Training Corps, will likely face one of the most dangerous post-graduation job assignments of any: a tour in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Some cadets come from strong military backgrounds. Others have family members who have served or serve now.
Most share the same fear of combat: not for their own lives, but for the lives of the 18- and 19-year-old enlisted privates who will be placed in the care of these new lieutenants.
The immediate post-graduate plans for a typical ROTC cadet look like this: after receiving his or her degree, the cadet is commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army. After another year of training, the newly commissioned officer reports to his or her respective unit and be placed in charge of a platoon of 30 to 40 enlistees. The unit typically deploys within a year, LSA junior Alex Tisdall said.
“It gets real real fast when you’ve got 40 lives on your shoulders,” Tisdall, an ROTC cadet, said of being thrust into the responsibilities of a military officer almost immediately after college.
This fate looms large for LSA senior David Young, who said his earliest possible date of deployment to Iraq is sometime in April of 2008.
“There’s close to a 100-percent chance that I will be deployed there,” said Young, who holds the rank of battalion commander, the highest post a cadet can attain.
Young said cadets who graduated from the University as recently as last April are already in Iraq. The final decision about whether a cadet’s unit will be deployed to the region depends on the unit’s deployment schedule and the nature of its job.
Young, a future infantry officer, said he hopes to be assigned to the 82nd Airborne division.
One of his high school classmates, who graduated with him in 2005, is already member of the 82nd Airborne and is currently preparing for his second tour in Iraq, he said.
Young said the roadside bombs, suicide bombers and improvised explosive devices worry him more than direct fire.
“A lot of people that I’ve talked to (who have been in Iraq) have been blown up,” he said.
Retaining the recruits
The recruitment numbers for the University’s ROTC program haven’t changed significantly since the United States first attacked Iraq in early 2003, said Lt. Col. Wayne Doyle, an assistant professor of military science.
“I always thought (enrollment) would have (declined),” he said. “But it hasn’t seemed to matter that much.”
The number of recruits has even gone up slightly over the past two years.
About 75 cadets are enrolled in the ROTC program, according to Master Sgt. Karol Clampitt, the recruiting operations officer. This is a slight increase from the 62 cadets enrolled last semester and the 54 during the 2005-2006 academic year.
“They have a high probability of ending up in Iraq or Afghanistan or Kuwait,” Doyle said. “They pretty much know what they’re getting themselves into.”
Talyor said the Army is making packages of retention incentives that cover a cadet’s tuition and fees, as well as an allowance for books each semester and a monthly stipend, more lucrative to students who need financial assistance.
While these benefit packages draw some students – Young included – to the ROTC program, other cadets seem genetically destined for a military career.
The family factor
The United States had been in Iraq for a year when LSA junior Stephen Taylor graduated from high school in 2004.
“I’ve wanted to be in the military my whole life,” said the ROTC cadet, whose parents are retired Air Force veterans. Taylor said his family’s military history can be traced as far back as the American Revolution.
“I was proud that my grandparents and relatives all fought, and I wanted to be a part of that,” Taylor said.
His 19-year-old brother Michael enlisted right out of high school and hopes to become an Army Ranger.
But it was originally Stephen who was going to enlist after high school and his younger brother who planned to become an officer.
Taylor said their roles reversed during his senior year of high school, when his wrestling coach encouraged him to try the ROTC. He said he was “lucky” to be admitted to the University so late in the admissions cycle.
Taylor said becoming an officer while experiencing life at the University is one of the best decisions he’s ever made, especially after watching his brother go through boot camp. He said watching the experiences of enlistees like his brother have furthered Taylor’s passion for the Army.
“After 9/11, I had a real reason (to join),” he said. “If I go over there, the chances of me protecting my friends and family is increased.”
ROTC cadet Patrick Doyle, an LSA junior, is waiting for his 25-year-old stepbrother, an enlisted soldier, to return this week from a 10-month mission in Afghanistan.
While he hasn’t been able to communicate with him during his tour, Doyle said he’s looking forward to learning how to be a better officer based on his stepbrother’s experiences as a private.
“When he gets back, I really want to talk to him about his lieutenant, what he did right and wrong,” Doyle said.
Apprehension and anticipation
“I used to be a lot more political than I am (now),” Young said of how his ROTC experience has changed his personal opinions. “As an officer, or as any soldier, you’re not supposed to question the political aims.”
Many of his comrades were quick to agree. Tisdall distinguished a soldier’s actions from his personal feelings.
“We’re going to do our job that our commanders tell us to do, regardless of our opinions,” he said.
For Tisdall, the physical and mental challenges posed by the Army were what initially attracted him to it.
“If you can make it through that – 22-years-old, 40 guys, bullets flying – if you can make it through that, that’s the ultimate test,” he said.
Doyle said a similar sense of duty motivated him to join ROTC.
“Somebody has to do it,” he said. “I’m a person that mentally and physically can do it, so for me, I’m not the kind of person who’s going to let someone else bear my burden.”
LSA sophomore David Millikan said he’s most apprehensive of the unknown.
“I’m worried about getting hurt – everybody is,” he said. “But on another level, I’m worried about what I need to do and doing it correctly.”
Millikan said he also worries for his family.
“I know my mom’s not too excited about it,” he said.
Many of the cadets are excited that the ongoing war means they may soon have the opportunity to put their skills and training to use.
“We’re both excited, but not to kill people,” Tisdall said of himself and Taylor. “It’s not bloodlust excitement. It’s an excitement to go over there and do your duty.”
Young was preparing to graduate from high school when the United States first invaded Iraq in the spring of 2003.
Four years later, as he prepares for another graduation, he finds himself longing to extend his career at the University to study and have fun without worrying about the war.
“Now that it is imminent, I kind of want to still be a college student and keep doing what I’m doing,” he said.
Young said he’s also impressed with the amount of respect that he sees cadets receiving from the campus community, even though they’re still in training.
“There’s no bullets around here,” he said. “There’s no explosions. We don’t have to go to sleep in a hole in the ground. Can you imagine bombs going off where you live, 24 hours a day?”