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Danger zone: The midshipmen have landed

| Thursday, March 4, 2021

Despite Notre Dame being among the finest schools for Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC), the general student body knows little about ROTC beyond its existence. Of course, everyone notices “uniform days” — the days where every ROTC student receives the comment, “I didn’t know you are in the Army,” (even if you are Navy — hooyah!).

As a sophomore midshipman (Naval ROTC student), when I am not studying for my mathematics/physics major and enjoying friends and campus life, I am training to commission as an officer in the U.S. Navy. This switch is most obvious Wednesdays when Naval ROTC members wear uniforms and attend Drill (i.e. Battalion training); Army and Air Force ROTC wear their uniforms Tuesdays. Digital camo does little to camouflage midshipmen on South Quad, and we receive a vast array of curious questions and comments.

Therefore, to briefly introduce ROTC, I am ranking the top comments we receive by frequency, informational benefit and entertainment value. I am addressing the Navy’s side, so to understand more about the Army and the Air Force, ask those students Tuesdays.

5. ‘Do you have to join the military? For how long?’

Yes.  We are students, both in college and in the Battalion. This includes completing summer training requirements, although they were canceled or delayed last summer due to COVID-19.  For instance, if not for COVID-19, we would have traveled last summer to Norfolk, San Diego, and Camp Pendleton for introductions to the different warfare communities: aviation, submarines, surface warfare and the Marine Corps. After graduation and receiving a college diploma and commission as an officer in the Navy, the service commitment is typically five to six years of active duty and three years of reserve duty. Aviators serve eight years of active duty due to flight school — cue “Danger Zone” from “Top Gun.” In ROTC, you are a college student but also training for your job to win each battle.

4. ‘Oh, you’re in ROTC? I used to think about joining it.’

It’s not too late to sign-up! For instance, a few midshipmen joined their sophomore year. Because students assume that they need to apply to ROTC in high school, they stop considering it as an option in college which leads to students ignoring the opportunities offered through ROTC. If interested in ROTC, talk to the officers, visit the Battalion, attend our fundraisers and events, ask to sit-in on a naval science class and explore the life of a midshipman.

3. ‘You look bada–.’

These comments can be either compliments or teasing. The women in ROTC have friends who are excited to see women in uniform and hype us up, saying, “Looking good, girl!” Friends of the guys tend to tease them and fake salute or cat-call. At least these call-outs make the point that people notice the uniform; what they do not often notice are its symbol and meaning. The uniform represents allegiance to and defense of the Constitution of the United States of America. So please don’t steal our “covers” (Yup, our hats.), even at football games (You know who you are.).  And please, please, please be careful with your coffee when we are in dress whites. 

2. ‘What time do you get up in the morning?’

Rise and shine is at 0530 for physical training days at 0600 for the Navy and Marines. Yes, it’s hard to walk down to Loftus bleary-eyed, but the athletes are also casually scootering across campus, the Army is rucking and I’ve seen a student trudge out of Hesburgh at 5:42 a.m. during finals week. The follow-up statement we hear most often: “I could never wake up that early.” It seems like campus culture to complain about sleep (8 a.m. is hard for everyone.), but complaining is self-sabotaging. Throw your hair in a bun, and get stuff done. Once you get stuff done, definitely take a nap (Yes, there’s photo evidence of marines napping on their dorm room floors in boots and camo-pants … Don’t tell).  

1. ‘Thank you for your service.’

This is both a deeply appreciated and awkward moment for ROTC students. Such a phrase shows thoughtful support, yet ROTC students know in their hearts that they are not yet deserving of such recognition as we have not participated in active service and combat. Despite this, it gives us “fire in the belly” to embody the legacy of the service members before us whose memories are immortalized around campus: the World War I helmet and list of fallen soldiers in the Basilica, the statues of Dr. Tom Dooley and Fr. William Corby, the Ensign (Navy term for American flag) on South Quad and most especially, the words carved in stone, “God, Country, Notre Dame.”

In conclusion, even though I’m only a sophomore, I’m already in awe of the other students in ROTC in each class year and military branch and am inspired by the officers and staff of Notre Dame’s ROTC units. I want the entire student body to be inspired by them and by the commitment and tradition of Notre Dame’s ROTC units — Navy (and Marines), Army and Air Force.

If you see an ROTC student in uniform, recognize them and say “Hello!” If you’re curious, ask questions about ROTC life, why we joined and why we want to commission into the military. Our attitude and comradery are best expressed by Iceman from “Top Gun”: “You can be my wingman anytime.”

Emma Keppel

class of 2023

Feb. 18

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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