While walking around Boston College’s campus on a Wednesday, one might notice the typical crowd of BC students spotted with young men and women in U.S. Army combat uniform. No, these are not guest lecturers or visitors from West Point, but just your everyday BC students who have chosen to be a part of Army ROTC.
Army ROTC was officially instituted at BC in 1947. Due to growing controversy surrounding the Vietnam War, BC eliminated the ROTC program in 1974. A reestablishment of ROTC at BC occurred when a partnership and cross-enrollment agreement was made between Northeastern University and BC. Now Northeastern, BC, Simmons College, and Suffolk University are just a few of the universities that make up the 16-school Liberty Battalion in the greater Boston area.
The members of Army ROTC at BC fall into two different groups of students: contracted cadets and participating cadets who are trying to decide if a commitment to ROTC is right for them.
Contracted cadets will have a service obligation upon graduating college. In return, most are contracting in hopes of achieving an ROTC scholarship. They also are provided some money for books and a small monthly stipend.
“Contracting and receiving a scholarship will happen simultaneously, meaning a student will contract because he or she has been offered a scholarship,” said John O’Brien, senior military science instructor of the Army ROTC program at BC. This service obligation for contracted scholarship cadets includes four years of Army service as an active-duty officer or a Reserve officer, followed by four years of inactive service.
The other group of students consists of those figuring out if they want to commit themselves to ROTC. “We will have freshmen who are all fully participating in ROTC, but some of them are just participating to see if they want to continue with it,” O’Brien said.
Upon reaching their junior year, students then decide whether to become a contracted cadet or end their participation with ROTC, although students can become contracted as early as they wish.
For many students, this eight-year military commitment can seem daunting and overwhelming. “An eight-year commitment seems really big to a lot of people, especially freshmen in college who have no idea what they even want to major in,” said Meredith Piro, A&S ’14. “But luckily, throughout ROTC you get guided towards making decisions that are right for you and that you are comfortable with.”
There are many different reasons why students find themselves interested in the ROTC program at BC. “I stumbled upon ROTC during my high school senior spring as I was looking for different ways to pay for my college education,” said Sarah Winglass, A&S ’14. “So that was what I was initially attracted to, along with the knowledge that it would offer a lot of career opportunities once I graduated.”
Brian Coakley, A&S ’15, who joined ROTC in the summer going into his sophomore year, explained his own path. “I joined for a number of reasons.,” he said. “Many members of my family have a history in the military, with a brother enlisted in the Marine Corps serving in Afghanistan shortly before my involvement in this program. Also the long-term skills ranging from leadership, selfless service, and loyalty and the most obvious: to serve my country.”
The program of Army ROTC involves military science classes, leadership labs, simulated training at local military bases, and physical training referred to as PT. These military science classes cover topics ranging from map reading, professional development, and tactics. PT occurs three times a week from 6:15 a.m. to 7:30 a.m.
“PT usually ranges from a long run of about four to six miles, to upper body muscular endurance workouts, to core training,” said Coakley.
Bill Lavelle, A&S ’17 explained how PT typically finishes up: “We almost always end with something called ‘Push-up Circle.’ For this final exercise, we partner up, put our feet on each other’s backs, and then do push-ups nonstop for 30 seconds.” This would then go on for as many rounds as the ROTC instructor in charge wished. During their senior year, cadets will find out which of the 16 branches of the Army they will be assigned to following graduation. These branches include military intelligence, infantry, armor, aviation, nursing, and Adjunct General (human resources).
“Every one of our seniors got their first choice of assignment,” O’Brien said. “We don’t really gear our cadets to any specific branch- they get to choose what they want. The BC students get what they want historically.”
“People often automatically think military equals boots on the ground, deployed for the rest of your life, but there are so many more aspects to the military than just that,” said Winglass, who will be commissioned in the branch of military intelligence upon graduation. Upon reflecting on the experience as members of ROTC at BC, these cadets feel that the program has created positive changes in their lives and shaped the people they have become.
“ROTC instills an extreme level of confidence that most people never have an experience with,” Piro said. “We are getting this training in reacting to situations you haven’t foreseen, whether you are doing a battle drill on the ground or standing up and giving a brief and something goes wrong. It involves learning how to take care of others rather than just yourself, which leads to a whole new level of responsibility.”