The Falcon | Volume 83, Issue 53
The Reserve Officer Training Corps students at Seattle Pacific often get mistaken for active-duty soldiers when they walk around in uniform.
Photo credit: AVA VAN/The Falcon.
By VANESHA MANUTURI,
Published: May 30 2012
Tuesdays and Fridays: physical training at 6 a.m. at University of Washington. Thursdays: leadership training at the same place.
This is sophomore Christine Smith’s schedule as one of six Reserve Officer Training Corps students at Seattle Pacific. Smith does the program at University of Washington in addition to being a full-time student studying physics education.
The ROTC program in the U.S. trains commissioned soldiers for the U.S. Army Forces while they are in college. The ROTC program offered at Seattle Pacific exists via cross-town agreements with University of Washington. Of the 180 credits required to graduate, SPU accepts 20-24 credits from an approved ROTC program.
One course ROTC students can take for credit is the general military course, in which students are expected to obtain one classroom hour, 1.5 hours of physical training and 1.5 hours of leadership laboratory per week during their freshman and sophomore years.
Despite some assumptions about ROTC students regarding their day-to-day workload, they are not that different from any other student.
“It’s like any other extracurricular activity where you spend hours practicing and doing activities outside of the classroom,” Smith said. “It is physically demanding, but it’s not too stressful, and it’s a great outlet to meet new people.”
The bigger challenge for Smith as an ROTC student is, instead, the assumptions that people make about ROTC students and the military.
“When we walk around campus in our uniforms, people say, ‘Oh, they’re in the military. They’re in active duty,’ and then we get the ‘Thank you for your service,’ but we haven’t done anything yet,” Smith said. “So, it’s hard to explain what we do without making it sound like such a terrible experience.”
Smith also often hears offensive jokes about the military when she or her fellow ROTC students are in uniform.
“It gets really tough when [ROTC students] show ... pride in our country and what we are willing to protect, and then people bash the government,” Smith said.
Aside from other students, ROTC students also can have challenges dealing with professors, Smith said. With a full-time load and ROTC obligations, Smith often has to miss classes and then explain why to the professors.
In one of her classes, a professor was discussing a problem and the conversation led to bombs. Knowing Smith was an ROTC student, the professor assumed that with her military knowledge, she should be able to defuse these bombs and made over-arching assumptions about her capabilities.
“In reality, I’m just a cadet,” Smith said. “I’m not in active duty. The only thing I shoot is paintball guns.”
Because of common misunderstandings and assumptions people on campus seem to have, Smith said she feels disconnected from the SPU community and tends to stick closer to the ROTC community.
“It’s easier to cling to the ROTC community, since we know what each of us are going through and understand the time and physical commitment completely,” Smith said.
In a phone interview on Sunday, Dr. William Woodward, SPU professor of history, expressed the same sentiment as Smith when talking about the challenges of ROTC students.
In the past, Dr. Woodward has acted as an on-campus liaison between students and the detachment officers in University of Washington; he was also an ROTC student during his college years and served for 25 years in the National Guard.
While the logistics and arrangements are also challenging, the greatest emotional challenge is feeling accepted, Dr. Woodward said.
In comparison to the World War II and the Vietnam generations, there’s only a tiny fraction of the American population that has direct experience with military service now, Dr. Woodward said.
“To be one of these few people, your life, although appreciated, will not be very understood in a comprehensive way,” Dr. Woodward said.
Dr. Woodward said, through all the challenges, both logistically and emotionally, there are three things that appeal and motivate students to join the ROTC program: financial assistance, long-term opportunities of training and patriotism of service.
For Smith, the idea of being able to serve the country is what gets her through the challenges.
“It’s stressful,” she said. “It’s hard. It’s challenging, and sometimes you wonder why you’re doing it, but [you have] those moments when you don’t want to keep going, and then you realized that you’re following your calling.”
Having previously served in the military, Dr. Woodward believes that his experiences and the experiences of his fellow faculty members, such as Dr. Margaret Brown, have deeply shaped them to be more effective professors and better contributors to the SPU community due to military leadership training.
“Being in the ROTC programs is both an opportunity and a challenge,” Dr. Woodward said. “The good news is that you’ll have a degree and have a guaranteed job after college.
“The bad news is that you get a guaranteed job after college, and you have to do it; you signed your name on it.”
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