ROTC brings military presence to campus
Kate Antonacci | Wednesday, February 23, 2005
Editor’s note: This article is the first in a two-part series exploring the perceptions and realities of the ROTC program at Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s.
Each day, the 311 students currently enrolled in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) at Notre Dame attend class, eat in the dining halls and participate in normal college student activities, though sometimes in uniform. Along the way, they learn to balance life as a student at a competitive university with preparation for their eventual transition into military service.
The ROTC program has been at Notre Dame in some form since the University’s founding in 1842. Of the current ROTC students, 90 are in Army, 111 are in Navy and 110 are in Air Force.
Each branch of ROTC has its own system of awarding student scholarships.
Of the 120 Air Force ROTC cadets, who come from Valparaiso University, Indiana University South Bend (IUSB), Holy Cross College, Bethel College, Saint Mary’s and Notre Dame, 20 to 25 percent are on full-tuition scholarship. The scholarships are awarded based on high school records and academic standing. Another quarter of Air Force ROTC students are given an 80 percent scholarship, and the remaining 50 percent receive half tuition scholarships, said Colonel Mike Zenk, department chair of aerospace studies.
Naval ROTC does not award partial scholarships – students are either on scholarship or they are not. These scholarships cover tuition, mandatory fees, a monthly stipend and $600 a year for books. There are currently five cadets in naval ROTC participating without a scholarship.
Army ROTC is unique in that all students in the program receive full scholarships to match the yearly tuition, even with yearly tuition increases.
This was not the case, however, in the late 1990s when the number of full tuition Army ROTC scholarships dropped, largely due to the ceiling scholarship amount the Department of the Army was willing to pay for Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s students at that time.
“The tuition rate at ND and SMC surpassed the amount of scholarship benefits that the Army was willing to pay for our students,” said Major Gary Masapollo, battalion executive officer of the Army ROTC program at Notre Dame. “We started to lose some of our prospects to other prestigious universities.”
But in 2002, the Department of the Army reinstated the full-tuition scholarship policy. Since then, numbers have been rising, Masapollo said.
While Notre Dame students are given full tuition, scholarships for women participating in Army ROTC from Saint Mary’s are capped at $20,000.
On top of early morning physical training sessions, special Navy, Army or Air Force classes each semester and weekly Drill Laboratories, the men and women in ROTC are normal students.
A common misperception is that students can major in ROTC, which is not the case, Masapollo said.
“You can major in anything and still be in ROTC,” said Zenk, who has cadets majoring in everything from psychology and English to political science and every type of Engineering.
“Our students are pretty much like all the other students on campus,” Masapollo said. “They live in the residence halls, eat in the South or North dining hall, attend football games and study like everyone else. We try to minimize their training requirements during the school year so they can be students first and foremost.”
ROTC, much like varsity athletics, is an outside activity that requires time but does not exclude participants from the duties of being a student.
“You don’t come here on a whim,” Zenk said. “There is a seriousness to the students who participate in ROTC and [who] know that Notre Dame is academically challenging.”
Many members of the ROTC community believe that there are other general misperceptions about the program that can be negative, including that students are being trained on how to kill indiscriminately, Masapollo said.
“I truly believe that they would not have such a negative image of our programs if they would take the time to learn about what we really do over here to prepare our students for the modern complexities of warfare in the post-9/11 world that they are being placed into by our nation,” said Masapollo, who returned to Notre Dame last March after being stationed in Iraq.
Each ROTC branch at Notre Dame stresses the similar idea of “God, Country, Notre Dame.” While being prepared to serve their country, students are also being nurtured by the faculty, rectors, friends and ROTC cadre, which helps the young members to learn valuable lessons of service, Masapollo said.
NROTC executive officer and assistant professor of naval science Commander Jeff Morris believes the members of the Notre Dame ROTC program receive top training on how to be strong leaders upon graduation.
“Regardless of your stance on war and armed conflict, I think it’s safe to say that the Notre Dame community would rather see young men and women with like minds, values, and beliefs leading our armed forces today and in the future, especially with all the ethical and moral dilemmas seen to date in Iraq and other areas,” he said.
Each branch of ROTC has a broad alumni base. The Navy and Air Force both have wide and active databases of names, though the program itself is rather loosely organized.
Army ROTC, on the other hand, has established a Notre Dame Alumni club of Iraq. Created in June, the club came out of an idea mentioned by Chuck Lennon, executive director of the Notre Dame Alumni Association, at the ROTC retreat in June. With the help of Bethany Heet, director of International Alumni Clubs, the club has grown, currently comprised of about 35 graduates.
ROTC has long been an integral part of Notre Dame.
“Our [Army ROTC] heritage can be traced back to Father Sorin’s original decision to train students in close-order drill in order to defend the newly-created university against the local Indian tribes,” Masapollo said. “During all the major wars that America has fought in over the past 150 years, ND graduates have served their nation with honor and distinction.”
The Navy and Notre Dame have been partnered for more than 60 years. The United States Air Force established an Air Force ROTC in 1947.