The army-administered backpack slung over Nursing Senior Autumn Augustine’s shoulders wasn’t the only item that signaled her role as a Reserve Officer Training Corp student.
Augustine arrived at 12:00 p.m. on the dot. Her punctuality, firm handshake and straight posture indicated her trained discipline.
In ROTC at the University since her freshman year, she rose through various leadership roles in her career. This semester marks her new role as battalion commander, the highest leadership position available to students in the program.
Augustine said she initially joined ROTC largely because of its financial benefits regarding tuition. Through a School of Nursing scholarship, the army paid for her schooling.
“It started off as a means to pay for school. I wanted to go to Michigan and then I thought, ‘Wow, this sounds like a really great opportunity,’” Augustine said. “And then I got into it and I loved it. I love the people I met. I love the culture. It’s been a great experience.”
The U.S. Army requires all individuals interested in staff positions to complete a four-year bachelor’s degree before starting off as a second lieutenant, the first officer rank. There are three routes that can be taken to become an officer: joining ROTC, attending a military academy, or completing the intensive Officer Candidate School program.
The ROTC is a four-year program at a non-military university that allows interested students to achieve both a bachelor’s degree and a military sciences education simultaneously. ROTC students at the University are offered scholarships and monthly stipends in return for meeting certain obligations during their time in the program.
Students in ROTC are not referred to by academic years, but by their military science years. A freshman in ROTC, for instance, would be called an MS1.
All students in the organization are required to attend an hour-long physical training class three times a week at the CCRB and a two-hour lab. Juniors teach lab classes for freshmen and sophomores, while seniors run classes on their own.
The most pivotal year for a military science student is junior year, where students are now required to attain at least one leadership position.
“The third year is more of your leadership capstone,” Augustine said. “You’re learning a lot about tactics and are also in roles such as platoon leader, platoon sergeant and squad leader. You have a direct role in the organization and you’re facilitating the training, so junior year is kind of a big step.”
Augustine, in her own junior year, held three different leadership positions: platoon sergeant, squad leader, and executive officer under a previous battalion commander. Her promotion to battalion commander was the next natural step.
As platoon sergeant and squad leader, Augustine led her peers through battle drills in the Nichols Arboretum as part of previous lab experiences.
“We’d have a two-hour lab where we would be running a mission as a squad or running a mission as a platoon,” she said. “You start off with building up with squad tactics and then you shift into platoon and patrolling tactics in the winter semester.”
But in her new role as battalion commander, Augustine serves as the face of the organization — and her cadre, or staff — as a whole.
“Everything that happens with the battalion, whether good or bad, rests on my shoulders,” she said. “I’m the one that ultimately answers to our cadre for that.”
Answering to the ROTC cadre, high-ranking military officials, is immense pressure for a student.
Added Augustine: “That’s the way it should be.”
She manages her own staff, comprised of her fellow peers, who brief her on everyday issues cadets are facing or possible changes that may need to be addressed.
Notably, Augustine is the only woman in her staff. ROTC itself is largely male. But Augustine said she does not feel any prejudice against her because of her gender and has always been welcome by her peers.
“I’ve never felt like I’ve been excluded because I’m a female,” she said. “Everyone treats each other the same. We all have that ability to make a lot of friendships with each other. I might have to be a little bit more firm sometimes, just because I am a female as opposed to male, but there’s no animosity between us for sure.”
The challenge, she said, will be leading her peers — the atmosphere is much different with her interaction with them inside the organization versus outside.
“That’s one thing that makes it hard,” Augustine said. “It’s your peers that you’re leading as opposed to strangers.”
Kinesiology student Jordan Macocha, her executive officer and battalion commander, said she is a hands-on leader, invests effort into her work and is receptive to ideas, but is “by no means a push-over.”
“She’s not just going to stand back and let something run and pat you on the back and say ‘Hey, good job,’” Macocha said. “If she sees something where she believes you can be improved or has an idea, she’s going to let you know and that’s a good thing.”
Augustine said she plans on partnering with Team Red, White and Blue, a veteran nonprofit organization, and hosting STEM events in southeast Michigan high schools with JROTCs in her final semester as a University student and military sciences leader.
“These aren’t ideas that just happened overnight,” Macocha said. “She spent a lot of time preparing for this role and thinking of ways to make the battalion better and even leave it better. Her thought process and the ideas she has are going to bring a lot to the table.”
Through her years in ROTC, Augustine said, she has sensed a change in her personality and anticipates her role with the military.
After graduating this May, Augustine will enter a nine-week training program with other second lieutenant nurses, before being stationed at a hospital in active duty.
“I feel I’ve grown a lot through ROTC,” Augustine said. “I just feel like I’ve had a lot of personal development and the commitment seems super exciting. I love the opportunities that are available to me because of ROTC and serving the patient population is going to be great. I’m really looking forward to that.”