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Notre Dame ROTC program honors Veterans Day

Megan Doyle | Monday, November 12, 2012

Every Tuesday, senior PJ Moran wears the blue uniform that marks him as a member of the Air Force ROTC program.  

The lapels are crisp, and colored pins line the front of his shirt to recognize the accomplishments he has tackled in nearly four years at Notre Dame.

But the blue uniform really stands for what he has yet to do.

“We’re standing here in uniform … but we really haven’t done anything yet,” Moran said. “I think it speaks to the character of individuals in ROTC who are willing to do this, that they soon will be people who will be going off and deploying, people who will be going off to war and unfortunately people will be going off and dying for their country.”

Moran will also wear this uniform today during the 24-hour vigil that began Sunday night to honor Veteran’s Day. He will take his turn, along with other cadets and midshipmen from the program’s Army, Navy and Air Force branches, to stand in front of Clarke Memorial Fountain and remember those who have served in the country’s military.

“It is a day to really think about people who have done this before you,” Moran said. “Veterans Day is more to me about the people like my grandparents, the people like the ones who are over there right now and who have come back, some without limbs, some losing their friends, some losing their lives.

“Today is about them.”

The ROTC program hosts more than 300 students, including a number of students from area schools such as Saint Mary’s and Trine University. For Moran and these other students, today is one more reminder of the unique path they will take after graduation.

“I mean, [the ROTC program administrators] don’t pull punches,” Moran said. “We are in wartime. They’re upfront with you. They tell you we are in global conflict against terrorism, you will almost certainly deploy multiple times in your career, no matter what you do. And we prepare very seriously.”

Junior Mike Falvey, a member of the Marine Corps option in the ROTC program, is no stranger to the idea of active duty. His father, a Marine Corps colonel, left for service in the Middle East two days after the 9/11 attacks in 2001. His brother and sister-in-law are both first lieutenants in the Marines as well, and they both deployed about a year ago for a tour in Afghanistan. His brother is set to deploy again in January.

“You’ve always got to be thinking outside of yourself,” he said. “It’s never enough to just do what you want, you have to think about these greater virtues and greater purposes. … [In a military family,] you’re raised a certain way.”

Junior David Murphy, a midshipman in the Naval ROTC program, also drew on a family experience with the armed forces, saying his grandfather’s stories from the Pacific as a World War II veteran piqued his interested in military service as a child.

“I would hear about things in history class and go home and call him, and he would say, ‘Oh yeah, I was there,'” Murphy said. “He loved the military and the service and the values it instilled in him.”

The bond across the entire military, Murphy said, is a strong connector.

“In the same way as Notre Dame, having the culture, having the tradition, being able to talk to someone who graduated from the Class of 1980 or something, I think it’s similar to talking to someone in the military,” Murphy said.

Murphy and Falvey are both political science students. Their classes hit a little harder, Falvey said, because they describe the places and forces that will directly shape their lives after they graduate.

“Looking at current foreign policy issues like … Iranian turmoil or trouble with North Korea, studying those issues is kind of interesting because those are, in a very real sense, places we could be,” he said. “It’s not just this theory of political science dictates we might be at war with China in 20 years. It’s an interesting perspective to take that we might be there.”

After completing his degree, Moran will work as a physicist for the Air Force when he graduates in May.

“I feel almost all the time like a perfectly regular Notre Dame student, going to football games, still messing around, having a good time,” he said. “But there are ties where on Tuesday [for ROTC classes] or for PT [physical training] on Monday mornings where your buddies are still in bed or playing Xbox, and you’ve got to all of a sudden transition from a regular college student to an officer candidate.

“We talked all the time in ROTC about a concept called ‘the switch,’ where you’re off, you’re switched off, you’re a regular guy, a regular gal, living your life, and at a moment’s notice you’ve got to be able to switch it on and take seriously the fact that you are preparing to be a U.S. armed forces officer, which is a humungous responsibility.”

Moran said his ROTC commitment presented a unique lens through which to see the foreign policy debates and political conversations during this election season.

“We are called very explicitly as military members to participate in the election process, to participate in democratic America, but to do so very much under the radar. … It doesn’t matter who wins, it doesn’t matter what party’s in control, we still have to go out there and do our jobs,” he said.

Senior Theo Adams is months away from completing her undergraduate degree in art history and Italian. But as a member of the Naval ROTC branch, her graduation will send her back to school – flight school on a military base in Pensacola, Fla.

“[Deployment] is never something that you look forward to,” she said. “But that is the reality of my situation and the other midshipmen on campus, that that will happen.”

Adams’ father served in the Navy, and her brother is currently serving on a Navy boat in the Middle East.

“I won’t get to see [my brother] for Thanksgiving and Christmas and the holidays, but it’s the type of thing that you know you’ll make those sacrifices and you have a bigger image in mind that you do it for the people back home. I know my family, while we hate not seeing him, we also understand.”

As she waits for emails and phone calls from her brother overseas, Adams said Veteran’s Day is just a day to be “very proud.”

“Just because of the fact that our military is totally volunteer, you’re not drafted into it, you’re not told you have to,” she said. “You are the one who goes to find the paperwork. … It makes me very proud to do this and to be American.”

The students enrolled in the University’s ROTC program are regular students. But they are also future members of the military, future veterans of this country’s conflicts.

Today they stand in uniform outside Clark Memorial Fountain as a remembrance of the past, but also a testimony to the service of the life that lies ahead for them.

“Veteran’s Day is an incredibly important day because it points to those people we kind of strive to be,” Falvey said. “If we can become those men and women who served our country, especially those who gave that highest price, who gave their lives, what more can we ask for than to honor that memory?

“Not many people out there are willing to give their lives for you on any given day, and that’s what the American veteran is.”