September 30, 2021
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ROTC Focuses on Leadership
Montgomery, Ala.— Huntingdon College junior Sebastian Verger is a receiver on the football team, a business administration major and history minor, and all of those demands make for a buckle-down-and-do-it college life. He’s also a cadet commander in Air Force ROTC. “I’ve never been put through this much stress in my life,” says Sebastian, with a grin that says he’s exhilarated by the challenge. “ROTC has helped bring out my leadership style. It’s taught me time management and strengthened my work ethic.”
Sebastian is one of three current Huntingdon students who are involved in the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program. Huntingdon students may choose Air Force ROTC, conducted at Alabama State University, or Army ROTC, conducted at Auburn University-Montgomery. ASU’s AFROTC program celebrates its fiftieth year this year.
The original idea for the ROTC program dates back to 1819, when Captain Alden Partridge, a former superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., developed a method of producing citizen-soldiers by providing able-bodied young men military training while they were in college. His vision was to create a body of trained men who were ready to respond should the nation have a need; otherwise, these men would continue with their civilian professions. The idea advanced when the Land Grant Act of 1862 was ratified. Each state received 30,000 acres of public land to establish institutions of higher learning that would concentrate on sciences—especially agriculture—and where military tactical training would be offered. Graduates of these institutions would be trained to fight in the Civil War. *By the early 1900s, more than 100 colleges across the country offered military training.
The formal establishment of ROTC occurred as a provision of the National Defense Act of 1916. The first ROTC unit was established at Harvard that same year. Although the original ROTC programs were U.S. Army-based, other branches of the military have established their own programs, beginning with the U.S. Air Force between 1920 and 1923; the U.S. Navy in 1926; and the U.S. Marine Corps in 1932.
The ROTC program is much more than rigorous. Although each military branch has established its own standards and measures of performance, all branches require that participants, known as cadets, prove themselves in academic achievement, leadership, fitness, and medical readiness, in addition to evaluations for the cadet’s professional track. Cadets meet for physical training at the host campus at 6:30 a.m. several times per week, and attend leadership labs, morale events, service events, classes, and field training. Learning happens both in the field and in the classroom. Because of the coursework involved, participants earn an automatic minor in either Military Science (Army) or Aerospace Studies (Air Force).
Jorge Henriquez is a junior business administration major, a second-year Cadet 2 in AFROTC, a Presidential Fellow, a member of a fraternity, and is active in the Student Government Association. He has been through the first and second years and remains in the General Military Course (GMC) portion of the ROTC program. If he is selected for field training next summer and passes that step, he will continue with ROTC and enter the Professional Officer Course (POC) portion of the program. If he passes that portion, he will enter military service as an officer when he graduates, with years of commitment to be determined. POC cadets are compensated financially and all cadets benefit from the program’s leadership training and learning experiences. Jorge hopes to become a pilot.
“I’ve gotten to meet some really interesting people through ROTC because the program includes cadets from AUM, Faulkner, and ASU who I never would have met otherwise,” says Jorge. “It has also allowed me to come out of my shell. Before ROTC, I was a very reserved person and only spoke around people I knew. ROTC has really helped me develop my leadership skills. You have to be outspoken and you have to lead when you’re in ROTC.”
Ranks are expressed differently in Army ROTC, where senior Calan (Cal) Ates is a Company Commander. In his role, he is in charge of the ROTC program that is on AUM’s campus. Cal was so determined to join the military he enlisted and went through boot camp prior to coming to Huntingdon. He has also completed 38 days of tactical training in the field, an essential step for officers to evaluate what they believe the participant’s career direction should be. He will be commissioned in May 2022 and has signed a contract for eight years of service, with four years obligated to active duty.
“I wanted to make my life and my parents’ lives easier,” says Cal of his decision to join the military simultaneously with entering college. “I didn’t want my family to struggle to pay for my college. Since I was 18 and could legally do so, I signed on the dotted line before I even told my mom. I love my country and I love my parents, and I felt like that’s what I needed to do.”
In addition to his ROTC commitment, Cal is in a field artillery unit with the National Guard, which demands his time two weeks during the summer and one weekend each month. A psychology major with no other military people in his immediate family, Cal has relied heavily on the advice of his friend Thomas Lovett ’20, who is an engineer officer commanding a platoon that is stationed in Fort Bliss, Texas, but is in Korea currently.
“I chose Army ROTC because I was then in the Army Reserves and knew it would grant me opportunities to progress my military career,” says Thomas. “ROTC guided my career path by giving me opportunities to experience different career options and seeing what best fits me. I had outstanding mentors in ROTC that also helped me choose my goals as well as achieve them. I would recommend Army ROTC to anyone with interest in the military. It allows you to understand the Army before signing the metaphorical dotted line. The program has amazing instructors that truly care and help all of the cadets achieve success in whatever careers they choose.”
AFROTC alumnus Seth Howe ’20 trained at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona, Fla., in the summer of 2018 and earned his private pilot’s license as a rising junior—all paid for by the Air Force while he was in college. An intercollegiate lacrosse player and cell biology major, Seth says he chose ROTC as a way to pay for college. “Right now, I’m training to be a weapons system officer (WSO) at NAS Pensacola. I was selected to be a rated officer, and furthermore a combat systems officer. I’ll fly either the B-52, B-1B, or the F-15E Strike Eagle.”
“Professionally, ROTC taught me how to function in a professional environment. Personally, the program showed me that there are many outstanding young men and women who want to serve their country,” says Seth. “I would recommend this program to anybody with aspirations to grow. ROTC is one of three commissioning sources to become an officer, and the military has very diverse job opportunities. The program is non-obligatory (unless you contract) for the first two years. If it’s not for you, the opportunities for growth will put you on the right path.”
Jorge says he’s worked hard to achieve a balance between the many demands on his time. He says, “ROTC has taught me that you’re capable of more than you think. If you really work hard, people will notice.”
Sebastian is a Cadet Captain, having completed field training, moved on to POC status, and moved up to a leadership role. Indeed, his hard work was noticed. When choosing a college, Sebastian knew he wanted to play football and had offers from several other colleges where he could play, but they prohibited him from doing ROTC simultaneously. Huntingdon allows students to do both. Raised in the military lifestyle with both parents in service to the Air Force, Sebastian was familiar with the demands military service would pose on top of his academic and football schedule, but he has no regrets. In fact, the stress he feels will be multiplied if he is able to enter the special forces unit, which is his dream. “I love leading young lives and I love the game of football. In addition to that, ROTC has made me a better person, a better cadet, a better student, a better teammate, and a better son,” he says.