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ROTC students suit up for orientation

Meghan Wons | Saturday, August 19, 2006

While many members of the Class of 2010 have been marching to the Bookstore to purchase “The Shirt,” freshmen in Notre Dame’s Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) program have been wearing uniforms of a different kind. Notre Dame’s Air Force, Army and Navy ROTC New Student Orientation drew approximately 70 students from Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s, Bethel College, Indiana University South Bend and Valparaiso University to campus last week.

“New Student Orientation is a whirlwind introduction into military bearing, customs and courtesies, uniform wear and physical training, so each day incorporates a bit of each,” senior cadet Eileen Shannon said. “Not only does orientation explain what ROTC is all about, it also shows the new cadets what they will be capable of in a few short years.”

Shannon and her staff led 23 Air Force ROTC freshmen in the New Student Orientation – a 40 percent increase in participation from last year, she said.

Michele Laning, a freshman from Valparaiso University, said the prospect of job experience in college and the appeal of tuition assistance drew her to join Notre Dame’s Air Force ROTC program. She said although the 6 a.m. wake up time was the earliest she has gotten up all summer, she has had a very positive experience this week.

For Saint Mary’s freshman Air Force ROTC cadet Elizabeth Mitchell, ROTC is a family tradition.

“My dad participated in Navy ROTC when he was a student at Notre Dame,” Mitchell said. “It’s been great meeting all of the other cadets in my class and the upperclassmen this week.

“We’ve done so many different things – from learning how to march, salute, the Air Force song, and wear our uniforms, to taking the Air Force Officer Qualifying Test and participating in social activities. It’s been challenging, but fun.”

New Navy ROTC midshipmen began their orientation Aug. 13 and marked the end with a fun run on campus Friday morning, said Lieutenant Greg Keigher, coordinator of the New Student Orientation.

“Orientation week provides a crash course on military etiquette, uniforms, policies and how to function as a military unit,” Keigher said. “The NROTC staff really emphasizes teamwork, camaraderie and Navy tradition.”

Keigher said the goal during New Student Orientation is to prepare the new midshipmen to function as “knowledgeable members of the NROTC battalion.”

“Upon graduation, all of these midshipmen will become military officers, and many will be leading sailors and marines into battle against the war on terror,” Keigher said.

Similar to the Air Force ROTC New Student Orientation, an early wake up call is a hallmark of the Navy’s New Student Orientation.

“A day during O week is pretty long,” Keigher said. “It starts around 6:15 a.m. and doesn’t end until 10 p.m.”

The sun hadn’t even peeked over Saint Mary’s Lake Thursday morning when the new Navy ROTC midshipmen gathered on Carroll Field in their blue and white gym uniforms just before 6:30 a.m. Shouting words of encouragement to each other, the new midshipmen took a mock Physical Readiness Test that included a sit-and-reach, timed sit-up and push-up tests and a timed one-and-a-half mile run. They will take the official PRT in October, battalion commanding officer Erin Smith said.

“O week sets the tone for discipline and professionalism and instills an understanding of the military chain of command for the rest of the year,” Smith said. “The Navy requires attention to detail and the concept of working as a team, so we try to instill this as much as possible throughout the week.”

Smith recalled the feeling of accomplishment that came with her own completion of the New Student Orientation when she was a freshman.

“The entire week is very challenging and you spend some time questioning why you’re putting yourself through it, but in the end you realize that there is a purpose behind everything and that you have just pushed yourself to new levels and made it through,” Smith said.

Four sophomores and four juniors joined 15 new freshmen in the New Student Orientation, cadet battalion Commander Eileen Kamykowski said.

“In a typical day, the new students woke up at 5:15 a.m. for Physical Training and spent the remainder of the day getting acquainted with everything from weapons, ranger tactics and urban warfare to repelling and putting on camouflage paint,” Kamykowski said.

Senior cadet Matthew Donnelly remembered what the orientation was like for him his freshman year.

“It was a really good experience for those of us who had little or no experience with the military,” Donnelly said.