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Fightin’ Irish Battalion continues excellence

Kristen Durbin | Tuesday, February 21, 2012

With a strong tradition dating back to 1858, the Notre Dame Army Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program is one of the most distinguished and respected organizations on campus.Now, that acknowledgement has spread nationwide.

On Feb. 6, the Army’s Cadet Command announced the winners of its MacArthur Award, which recognizes the top eight ROTC programs of 273 total across the country. Notre Dame was chosen to represent the 7th Brigade, which includes 38 programs throughout Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Tennessee and Kentucky, Lt. Col. John Polhamus said.

Although the Army ROTC program may not be among the largest programs in the country, Polhamus said the quality of the Battalion’s roughly 70 current cadets, including students from Holy Cross College, Saint Mary’s College, Bethel College, Valparaiso University and Indiana University – South Bend, contributes to its success in producing excellent junior officers.

“We have a good program because it’s cadet-driven. We have a smart, intelligent group of cadets, and we give them a lot of flexibility and latitude to train and teach themselves,” he said. “It’s all about leadership in creating junior officers, and we try to instill that in cadets as early as possible. It’s paid off.”

Senior battalion commander Brett Leahy said the program’s success stems from the hardworking, intelligent students at Notre Dame.

“We are fortunate to have a student body that has already proven a strong work ethic and high academic standards,” he said. “From that pool, we are able to draw some of the most dedicated and selfless leaders in the nation.”

Leahy also cited Notre Dame’s focus on ethics and morality in all its operations as another reason for the success of Army ROTC cadets. The Universith consistently produces high numbers of Distinguished Military Graduates, defined as those cadets who fall into the top 20 percent of cadets nationwide.

“We also benefit from Notre Dame’s commitment to ethics in its educational mission, as it gives our cadets a moral foundation that is consistent with the Army’s Warrior Ethos,” he said.

This ethical focus and the University’s service-oriented mission tie in closely with the ROTC program’s mission in producing quality second lieutenants as well, Polhamus said.

“The University is extremely supportive of our community, and it allows us the flexibility to create a great program across the board,” he said. “A big reason for students coming into ROTC is their commitment to service, which goes along with the Notre Dame mission and contributes to the success of the program.”

Senior cadet Trevor Waliszewski said commitment to service goes hand in hand with the Army’s core values and the University’s Catholic mission.

“As a Catholic university, Notre Dame attracts a lot of people who want to fight for something bigger than themselves,” he said. “One of the greatest Army values is Selfless Service, and it goes without saying that each of us [is] willing to pay the ultimate price for our country if necessary.”

That willingness to serve the nation carries on after cadets graduate from the program and join the hundreds of alumni currently serving on active duty around the world.hNotre Dame ROTC alumni currently serve in such locations as Germany, South Korea and Japan, Polhamus said.

Second Lt. Ryan Degnan, a 2011 alumnus of the Army ROTC program, recently completed the Basic Officer Leadership Course (BOLC) in military intelligenc, ande returned to Notre Dame this week to assist with the Hometown Recruiting Assistance Program (HRA. .

Degnan, who begins work in his first unit in San Antonio on Monday, said the success of the Notre Dame ROTC program begins with the drive and passion of its cadets.

“The biggest thing about Notre Dame ROTC is that it comes with a lot of talented cadets who are all striving to be the best they can be, and they have a lot of drive to succeed,” he said. “It fosters a competitive atmosphere, but there’s still a lot of camaraderie and teamwork in the unit.”

Degnan said the program pushed him to work hard in all aspects of his training and education, which prepared him well for his upcoming duties.

“The program instills a very strong work ethic in its cadets, and I can’t even express how much that work ethic helps in the long run,” he said. “The Army-focused training we had senior year taught ue how to be good leaders and succeed as officers, and I think it gave me a good base to face any challenges I might come in contact with this year.”

Above all, Waliszewski said the strong sense of community among ROTC cadets contributes to the program’s success and cohesion as a group.

“We are a very tight-knit community,” he said. “We all have friend groups from dorms, majors or clubs, but friendships made in ROTC tend to be the strongest and seem to last long after graduation, since we are all going into the same career and may run into one another in a different part of the world in the not-so-distant future.”