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ROTC branches greet freshmen with drills, training

Karen Langley | Saturday, August 20, 2005

While most Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s freshmen were greeted Friday by exuberant Frosh-O squads spouting dorm cheers, 66 students began their orientation earlier in the week with commands from their Officers in Charge.

From physical training (PT) exercises to pizza parties, marching drills to movie nights, Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) orientation provided freshmen with both a foundation of military knowledge and an opportunity to bond with some of their fellow ROTC students before school begins.

Students from Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s, Holy Cross, Indiana University South Bend, Valparaiso University and Bethel College converged on the Notre Dame campus, which is home to three branches of ROTC. The Army, Navy, and Air Force ROTC branches each held their own freshman orientation, complete with different rules and varying activities. Navy students arrived Sunday, while Army and Air Force students arrived Monday.

Though times and tones varied between the branches, all ROTC freshmen engaged in physical training and learned about military rules and customs. Many activities were led by ROTC upperclassmen who had undergone similar orientations in years past.

“I thought it was a challeging week as a freshman, and so it’s interesting to be on the other side,” said Dyan Guthrie, a sophomore in Navy ROTC. “While the freshmen might feel as if the world is coming to an end this week, as staff we know that everything serves for the purpose of making them strong leaders and good naval officers.”

Courtney Collins, a new member of the Army ROTC, said that the orientation served as a warm welcome to school. She was less than thrilled, however, with the timing of some orientation events.

“The last two days have been the longest days of my life,” she said Tuesday. “We wake up at 5:15 a.m. for 5:30 a.m. PT.”

That intensity is deliberate, said Lt. Theresa Brown, who runs the Army’s ROTC freshman orientation.

“It’s basically a crash course on what we do in the army,” Brown said. “They learn the basic skills needed to be a soldier. They take the APFT [Army Physical Fitness Test], and if they pass, they are given a scholarship.”

Brown also emphasized the social bonding that occurs during orientation.

“It’s what finally brings classes together,” she said. “These are people from around the country who will go on past college [in the armed forces]. It’s a chance to get 23 friends right away, friends who will become your family away from home.”

The Navy ROTC has 25 male and five female freshmen midshipmen. Air Force ROTC welcomed 10 male and five female freshman cadets to its corps. Army ROTC now includes 12 male and nine female freshman cadets.

“So far [orientation] has been lots of fun,” said Brittany Shelton of Air Force ROTC. “This is a good way to transition into the school year and the ROTC program.”

Orientation was a time for the ROTC upperclassmen to familiarize the freshmen with rules and drills, but it also provided the new students with a chance to make friends for the coming years.

“This is the time for them to bond and get to know each other,” Air Force cadet Jen Sayers said.

Before students are able to begin the ROTC program at Notre Dame, they go through a detailed process to gain acceptance. Each branch of ROTC then uses its own system to award student scholarships.

For the 2004-05 school year, 20 to 25 percent of the 120 Air Force ROTC cadets were on full-tuition scholarship, according to a Feb. 23 article in The Observer. 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, said Major Gary Masapollo, battalion executive officer of the Army ROTC program at Notre Dame, in the Feb. 23 article.

While Notre Dame students are given full tuition, scholarships for women participating in Army ROTC from Saint Mary’s are capped at $20,000, Masapollo said.

Kelsey Larson, a freshman Army cadet, praised the orientation experience.

“It involves great ways to meet new people, like when we get off from doing the ropes course,” she said. “We get to meet our classmates before classes start.”