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ROTC seniors prepare to take on assignments

Emma Driscoll | Friday, May 18, 2007

After four years of dedication to their roles as both Notre Dame students and members of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) program, ROTC seniors will prepare for their new assignments soon after Saturday’s Commissioning Ceremony at 9 a.m. in the Joyce Center.

Sixty-three officers will be commissioned at the ceremony, with 22 from the Army unit, 20 from the Air Force, 20 from the Navy and one from the Marines.

At the ceremony, Class of 1980 Notre Dame graduate Brig. Gen. Michael M. Brogan, commander of the Marine Corps Systems Command in Quantico, Va., will address the students.

Brogan has earned the Meritorious Service Medal with Gold Star, Navy Commendation Medal with Gold Star, Navy Achievement Medal and Combat Action Ribbon.

Lieutenant Colonel Gary Masapollo said the cadets will be sworn in as a group but recognized individually as well.

Most of the students know where they will be assigned, Masapollo said, and are pleased by their assignments.

“Just about all [who will be commissioned] have an assignment to go to, and that depends of course on their branch,” he said. “The Army students know where they’re going to, they know when they report in and when they are leaving. The Navy pretty much is sure at this point where they’re going, and there they will be assigned. … They pretty much got the assignments they wanted – nobody was depressed that they didn’t get what they wanted.”

ROTC Battalion Operations Officer Chase Gund, part of the Navy unit, will be commissioned an ensign on Saturday. He has been assigned to the Navy Supply Corp and will be heading to the Navy Supply Corp School in Athens, Ga., at the beginning of July.

Fall 2006 Battalion Commander for Navy Erin Smith will also be commissioned as an ensign. She will be going to USS Cowpens – a cruiser out of Yokosuka, Japan – after she completes two weeks of training in Pearl Harbor. While anxious, Smith said she is also excited to begin her assignment, both because of the opportunity to live in Japan and because “this four years of training is about to pay off.”

Air Force cadet John-Paul Adrian will be commissioned a second lieutenant and will begin his assignment as a security forces officer at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyo., in June. Like many graduates, he is excited to start his assignment but unsure of what the future may bring.

“I’m really anxious to get out there and get started,” he said. “It’s kind of been four years of build up to get to this point. I’m a little nervous because there is a really good chance that I’m going to be deployed as early as this fall.”

Midshipman First Class John Harrington, who will be commissioned as an ensign and has been assigned to the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Fla., to begin flight training as a naval aviator – something he described as a childhood dream.

“I’ve wanted to do it since I was seven years old,” he said.

Notre Dame’s reputation and its ROTC program, Harrington said, help cadets get the assignments they want.

“Coming from Notre Dame, you’ve got the education that the ROTC programs have and the status of the university,” he said. “You have a pretty good chance at getting your first or second assignment choice.”

For Harrington, the Pensacola assignment is a chance to start his training and put into practice everything that he has learned in his four years in Notre Dame’s Navy ROTC program, which he called “the best in the nation – it’s either the [Naval] Academy or Notre Dame.”

Harrington said the “strong Catholic background and professional education background that Notre Dame provides” allows the University to produce well-rounded officers who are morally and professionally capable of carrying out tough jobs.

Since Notre Dame strives to maintain a Catholic identity, Smith said there is a focus on just war theory and leadership ethics in ROTC classes, although she acknowledged that non-Catholic university ROTC programs probably address these topics as well.

“I think we really have a good background in ethical and moral leadership,” she said.

Optional ROTC Emmaus meetings and freshman and senior retreats helped Adrian develop his faith within his role as a cadet.

“It’s always a culture that you felt comfortable talking about your faith,” he said. “It’s really been good because you can talk about just war theory, how your Catholic beliefs might factor into hard decisions that you make at one point.”

Those ideas of leadership and decision-making aren’t just applicable to roles in the military, Gund said, but throughout life as well – a lesson he took away from Notre Dame’s ROTC program.

“A lot of what I learned was just basically how to transition – the change from being just a normal civilian, like a college student, and the difference between that and actually being a member of the military and what different values you need to hold and what’s expected of you. … You’re held to a higher standard,” he said. “[The ROTC program] helped me to realize that being an officer in the military, you have a different place on the college campus, really.”

For Smith, this different place means that she has to evaluate the examples that she sets.

“I think one of the strengths of ROTC is that you can be at a regular university and be a well-rounded officer … but I do think that our college experience is different,” she said. “You have to think about what you’re doing in your social life and what example you are setting for underclassmen … I think there are different considerations and a different mindset than the average college kid.”

That different mindset is evident in how ROTC students view the war on terrorism. Since Sept. 11 occurred before Harrington was accepted into the ROTC program, he and his fellow graduating cadets saw the reality of U.S. involvement in Iraq and the Middle East.

“We’ve known ever since we came that we were at war and that we’d probably still be at war at the time we graduated,” he said. “… It’s kind of a motivating factor that we will be able to use our skill set in defense of the country. We’re not just going to be trained for when we go to war, because we are at war.”

For Gund, the political situation in the U.S. does not increase or lessen his desire to serve his country.

“I kind of separate the politics from the actual serving the United States Military,” he said. “It’s the job, it’s what I do. I’ll do it willingly whether or not the politics behind it I would agree with or not.”

Adrian said the war and possibility for deployment did not affect his decision to join ROTC. While he said he will continue military service past his commitment if he still enjoys it as much as now, he acknowledged that active duty will be different from ROTC.

Smith said she plans to determine whether to make military service her career after she completed her commitment.

“Most of us are thinking we’ll evaluate when our commitment is over with. … The majority of us don’t know if we’re going to make a career out of it,” she said.