Niagara University senior Brad Stubblefeld felt drawn to the Armed Forces, even as a kid. "My uncle was in the Marines, and he went in as a private in Vietnam and came out a lieutenant colonel. He was in it for 33 years, so I kind of felt like I (could) live a legacy."
Instead of simply enlisting, Stubblefeld joined the Reserve Officer Training Corps after graduating from high school in Martinsville, Va. "I heard it was a good way to pay for college," he said. "I was planning on enlisting if I didn't get the scholarship."
Army ROTC pays full tuition to scholarship winners for most schools offering ROTC programs and gives a book allowance and a monthly living allowance ranging from $250 the first year to $400 the fourth. Niagara University pays full room and board costs plus a meal plan for all scholarship winners.
In return for the scholarship, applicants must serve four years full-time in the U.S. Army, while some candidates may join part-time in the National Guard or the Army Reserve for eight years. Some students may decide to make the Army a career. As Stubblefeld noted: "In an ideal world, I would want to join the Engineer Corps and retire from there."
To qualify for a four-year Army ROTC scholarship, high school students must have a grade-point average of at least 2.5 and meet physical standards.
Niagara's ROTC program was ranked first in the nation in 2003 by the U.S. Army Cadet Command, based on the number of officers comissioned and the quality of the program. Other colleges in the state with ROTC include Cornell University, Canisius, St. Bonaventure, Syracuse and Geneseo State College. Most ROTC cadets are commissioned to be second lieutenants upon graduation.
The ROTC program instructs students not only on technical things such as military movement and tactics, but also about morals and leadership. Says Luke Stewart, a senior ROTC cadet at Niagara, "We start off with basic leadership classes and stages of training. This year we're covering mainly problem solving, ethics and leadership." ROTC students also study military history, map reading and first aid. ROTC cadets are asked to strive for academic excellence in their other studies. Casey Russell, a senior, says: "Our academics have to stand at 2.5 (GPA) in order to maintain your scholarships, but the cadre here have much higher aims than that."
ROTC cadets also have a strict physical regimen to uphold.
Many cadets, like Stubblefeld who played football, basketball, and ran track in high school, were already athletic when they joined the program. ROTC, however, brings it to a new level. Senior Steve Szymanski explains: "It takes endurance to be a cadet because the training is constant. Not only do you have the physical training Monday, Wednesday, and Friday that is required, (but) to really get through it all you need to work out every day."
Stewart says that along with the physical training, other activities help cadets reach their physical goals, "We do field training exercises -- those can be fun, like rappelling, the rifle range ... stuff like that." Szymanski says the field exercises are "four-day trips where we apply what we've learned in the classroom and in the military labs -- the practical exercises of the army, and we go out into the field and actually perform those.. whether it be training or land navigation or basic military movement."
Many of the cadets noted that scheduling ROTC into their lives can be difficult. "Every once in awhile ROTC does require that you miss a day of class, maybe two, and it takes coordination and effort on our part to figure out what we missed in class and to properly handle it. Once you get your schedule down and your time management, then it's easy," says Szymanski.
The cadets listed a variety of reasons for why they chose to enroll in ROTC at NU. Nick James said simply, "Niagara (University) rocks." Tracy DeLaura did junior ROTC in high school so "(ROTC) just continued on to what I wanted to do." Says Stewart, "I was planning on doing some type of military service anyway, whether doing active or doing reserve; I just chose ROTC because I wanted a college education." Szymanski praised NU for its "unique approach compared to other schools, especially in regards to being a student first and being a soldier second."
The cadets are prepared for their future service in the U.S. Army. "We all came here prior to Sept. 11, but once everything happened we all showed a commitment, nobody's quit," Szymanski said. "All of us ... continue to work to be officers."
Stubblefeld said his family, while nervous about his decision to join ROTC in light of the Sept. 11 attacks and the conflict in Iraq, are understanding. "As of late, yeah, they are kind of nervous because they hear everyone is going over to Iraq. They're parents; parents will obviously worry where their kids go. They're nervous, but they're not trying to get me out of it or anything like that. They support me."
For information about ROTC, go online to niagara.edu/rotc/ or goarmy.com/rotc/
Emily Warne is a junior at Mount St. Mary Academy.