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ROTC graduates fight in Iraq

Tricia de Groot | Thursday, September 2, 2004

For ROTC members of the class of 2004, graduating meant more than just bursting the Notre Dame bubble. Several of last year’s grads – who enrolled in the ROTC programs prior to the September 11 attacks – are now stationed in Iraq, serving their nation in a time of global war.”When I got out [of college,] it was peace time in the Reagan years,” said Major Gary Masapollo, who just returned from serving a year in Iraq.Times have changed. “It is very difficult for these students. They are 22, and their first job is in the military,” said Masapollo. “When they started in the fall of 2000 there was no war. Now, they have graduated, and their country is in a global war on terrorism.”Although the attacks of Sept. 11 created a very different national mentality, many ROTC students and grads don’t feel as though the war has changed their sentiments about joining one of the services.”Those who want to serve their country and the greater good will continue to do so despite our situation overseas,” said Second Lieutenant Jessica Millanes, a 2004 Saint Mary’s graduate. “There may be more to consider. And I certainly had more family pressure not to join because of the war, but I had to follow what was in my heart and decided to serve.” First Lieutenant Patrick Murphy, a 2002 Notre Dame graduate, said despite mixed media portrayals, his experience in Iraq has been rewarding. “The media sensationalizes many things that happen here, and tend not to focus on the progress that is happening,” he said. “Americans have to realize this is not an immediate thing, and it takes time to rebuild a country. Granted, the resistance that has occurred was not expected, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to turn and run away.”Notre Dame’s ROTC programs have actually had some of their highest recruiting numbers over the past few years, Masapollo said. However, he attributed this increase to more positive training programs and did not necessarily correlate it with the war. Still, the possibility of being sent overseas hangs closely over cadets’ heads. “There was not a day that went by [at Officer Candidates School] that we weren’t reminded of the fact that we could end up in Iraq or Afghanistan in a very short amount of time,” Millanes said. “It only encouraged me to work harder and it confirmed my decision to join the Marine Corps and serve my country.”Masapollo encountered two of his former students while serving in Iraq, and expressed his satisfaction with the work of these two graduates. He also commented on the fluid warfare that troops are experiencing in Iraq, and how it differs from “black and white” wars in the past.”They are in situations where there’s not a definition,” Masapollo said. “It is great that we made our students thinkers at Notre Dame and it shows now in the army. This is a reflection on ROTC and Notre Dame, specifically the academics at Notre Dame.”Though American involvement in Iraq has drawn much heated national debate, several members of the service said they remain unaffected by any negative sentiments. “Marines work hard to accomplish the mission regardless of what the public opinion of the war is,” said Millanes.Hool said he welcomed varying opinions.”I feel very supported. People speaking their mind is a good thing,” he said.For cadets still on campus, the war remains a motivating thought.”It’s in your mind, you think about it because it would affect us more than the typical Notre Dame student,” said sophomore Emily Ledet. “But most of are in it because we feel we have a duty to serve.”