Tri-military ROTC cadets receive commissions, prepare to serve
Peter Breen | Friday, May 19, 2023
On Saturday morning, at the tri-military commissioning ceremony in DeBartolo Performing Arts Center, 57 graduating cadets will be appointed second lieutenants or ensigns in the United States Navy, Marines, Army or Air Force.
Depending on branch, scholarship and request, Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) students typically owe four or five years of active duty service after commissioning.
Graduates of Notre Dame’s three ROTC programs will go on to become pilots, doctors, Navy SEALs, cavalry officers, submariners, environmental engineers and more.
Twenty seven seniors will be graduating from Notre Dame’s naval ROTC (NROTC) unit. Eight Marine Corps options will be made second lieutenants, while 19 Navy options will become ensigns, the naval equivalent of a second lieutenant.
Where and how these men and women end up serving is based on the current needs of the Navy or Marines, said Captain Lance Thompson, commanding officer of the University’s NROTC program. This year’s officers will take on a wide range of duties from ground combat to cyberspace operations to nuclear reactor engineering.
Thompson said annually, the U.S. Navy receives a third of its officers from three different sources: the Naval Academy, NROTC and Officer Candidate School. An advantage of NROTC is that students get to have a normal college experience, Thompson explained.
“The great thing about Navy ROTC, unlike the [Naval] Academy, is they can live a pretty much normal college life,” Thompson said. “We ask [for] about seven to eight hours a week.”
Weekly, NROTC cadets complete physical training (PT) at 6 a.m. for one hour twice a week and attend a Navy leadership lab for two hours Wednesday evenings. Each semester, students take a naval science class and first-year students also attend study halls.
This year, one senior midshipman was a leprechaun. Thompson said if cadets maintain good grades, they’re allowed to participate in many different activities.
“I have a junior that’s on the football team, so that’s probably the largest time commitment away from ROTC,” Thompson said. “We ask for that seven to eight hours minimum, but if you’re the football player, we don’t make him go to PT in the morning. He gets enough PT at football practice.”
From getting along with random roommates to voluntarily putting in extra hours every week, Thompson said his cadets have exceeded all his expectations while forming lifelong bonds with each other.
“That group of 27 seniors that have been through four years together … they [have developed] forever friendships over the course of four years from people all over the country,” Thompson said.
Seniors Lindsey Michie and William Barcena are two of 14 graduating cadets in the University’s Army ROTC program — the Fighting Irish Battalion.
Barcena, who studied political science, is going on active duty to be an officer with the Army’s Armor Branch. Barcena hopes to do reconnaissance on Humvees, he said.
“At the end of May, I’m going down to Fort Benning, which is in southwest Georgia. I’ve got about a year or so of training there on how to be an Armor officer and then some other school related to that to train me up,” Barcena said. “Then after that, I’m going to go to my first duty station, which I do not know yet.”
Michie, a computer science major, is going on active duty as an aviation officer, which carries a 10-year service obligation. After commencement, she will head down to the U.S. Army’s flight school in Novosel, Alabama, she said.
“The goal would be to fly the Chinooks, which are the really big helicopters. I won’t really know what airframe I’ll have until probably about a year from now,” Michie said.
During college, Michie said Army ROTC was the perfect combination of doing something physically active and doing service.
“I grew up in a household that always valued service, so I had a little bit of calling there,” Michie said. “I always loved being physically fit. Running and lifting [were] always my favorite.”
Barcena said his Catholic faith has always driven him to be a servant leader.
“I’m a very relationship-oriented person. The Army is all about people and relationships and service,” Barcena said. “I thought it was a really awesome opportunity for me to better myself and meet some awesome teammates along the way.”
Though balancing Army commitments and normal college life was challenging at times, Michie said ROTC enhanced her undergraduate years because of the people she got to know along the way.
“You have that shared hardship, and you can always look back at the many memories of the past four years and … laugh about it … so it’s been a really awesome sense of community,” Barcena said.
Air Force ROTC
Notre Dame’s Air Force ROTC program — detachment 225 — is commissioning 16 second lieutenants.
Colonel Cary Culbertson, the commander of the University’s Air Force detachment, said students join the military first and foremost because they want to serve their county.
“The reason why they go to Air Force versus Army [or] Navy, I’d say probably kind of depends on what their family has done and then whether you would like to be in the respective force,” Culbertson said.
Culbertson, who flew F-16 jets for 27 years, said Air Force cadets have two big interests: flying and engineering.
“Many lean toward engineering, and I think that’s a product of Notre Dame being a heavy engineering school,” Culbertson said. “Since I’ve been here, I’ve seen a little bit more interest in pilots, probably because I get to talk to them all the time and tell them how cool it is.”
Air Force ROTC demands five to six hours of students’ time a week, Culbertson said. While some students do very well, others struggle with the work-life balance of being a Notre Dame student and in ROTC, Culbertson added.
“We offer counseling and feedback. We contact professors if we need to, just to make sure that they’re able to keep their grades up and do ROTC at the same time because if they don’t graduate, they can’t be a lieutenant,” Culbertson said. “We are monitoring them. We monitor their grades… we’re allowed to access their grades, which most people cannot.”
Cadets also have their classmates in “the wing” as resources, Culbertson said.
“The juniors and the seniors are responsible for teaching the freshmen and the sophomores how to be upperclassmen,” Culbertson said. “They’re responsible for running the cadet wing … and then academically, they have formal tutoring sessions because a lot of them are going through the same courses because they are in the same major.”
Culbertson said the senior class this year was great and that he is sad to see them go.
“But they’re going to be great officers, and they’re going to make their parents and our nation proud,” he said.