Who are the students we see on campus in military uniforms? What do they do, and where are they going?
These students are part of ROTC, which stands for Reserves Officer Training Corps, and they will be commissioned as officers into the United States Military upon graduation from Tufts.
There are three branches of the ROTC: Army, Navy and Air Force. In many cases, ROTC provides students with an academic scholarship, in exchange for service in active duty for at least four years post-graduation. Upon graduation, ROTC students are commissioned as second lieutenant officers in the military.
Tufts ROTC conducts its training at MIT with various other Boston schools such as Harvard University, Wellesley College, Salem State University and Endicott College. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel John Marshall Preston explained why Tufts’ ROTC is centered around MIT.
“MIT is a federal land grant college. So, back in the 1860s, Senator Morrill proposed a land grant college act, and part of that arrangement was the federal government gifted land to various universities,“ Lieutenant Colonel Preston said. “Part of the agreement for that gift was that those universities would help provide military training that we could tap into in times of national war, so civil military training and relationship. So that’s in MIT’s history and part of their founding charter. And why there’s always been a military training environment here.“
Across all three branches of ROTC, each student must participate in physical training and leadership labs throughout the week. Aside from that, each branch has its own specific requirements.
Mateo Prieto, an Army ROTC senior majoring in international relations and minoring in Arabic described the main elements of ROTC training.
“[Physical training is] just to make sure that we’re staying in shape. But really the main goal of [physical training] is to foster teamwork … to foster discipline [and] to get used to waking up in the morning,” Prieto said.
Prieto continued by explaining what Army ROTC cadets learn during their leadership labs held once a week at MIT. The Army ROTC program involves physical training, leadership labs and military science classes.
“Basically, what we focus on is leadership. We do it through means of executing small unit infantry tactics. So we learn how to do things like how to conduct a raid, how to conduct an ambush, how to conduct an attack or reconnaissance, a defensive perimeter, because in the army, there’s the idea that every soldier is first rifleman, and then whatever his or her job is second,” Prieto said. “But also, the reason we do this in ROTC is because it gives us a basic standardized medium for how we can exercise and execute our leadership abilities.”
Julia Graham, an Air Force ROTC senior studying international relations and Arabic stated that she is required to take an aerospace studies class.
Other than these requirements, ROTC cadets are welcome to study any major at Tufts. However, U.S. Navy Lieutenant Alex Francher described that Navy ROTC shipmen do indeed have certain required classes.
“It’s really just a couple of supplemental classes, there’s some college level calculus, college level physics and then there’s like a smattering of an English class, world history class, a culture class, some things like that. Basically, so that we know regardless of your major, we’re going to get a well-rounded naval officer once you commission,” Lieutenant Francher said.
In addition to receiving military training during the school year, ROTC students participate in training during summer breaks as well. For Air Force cadets, there is a mandatory summer training at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Ala.
“[Field training is] between your sophomore and junior year and you’ll go spend two weeks [in Montgomery] in sort of the stereotypical Hollywood-type military training. Uniform inspections, early mornings, lots of drill, lots of marching, some combatives, lots of leadership reaction courses, group leadership problems, some combat care, first aid,” Lieutenant Colonel Preston said.
Tufts ROTC students noted that the experience evolves throughout their four years of college. As first-years, they are taking in information, but as they get older, it is their responsibility to teach underclassmen.
“Junior and senior year [in Air Force ROTC], you’re part of … the professional officer corps. It just means you’re an upperclassman in the program and instead of following and taking in all the information and being evaluated on it all the time, you are teaching the younger cadets,” Graham said.
One of the main features of ROTC is that it is a commitment well beyond the college years, so graduating seniors prepare for their years of service ahead.
“I’ll commission as a Second Lieutenant this May, the day before graduation, and then … I’m expecting to go head down to Fort Benning, Ga. for infantry training in the coming few months,” Prieto said.
Graham also outlined her postgraduate plans.
“I’m going to be an intelligence officer. So I’ll be going postgrad to Goodfellow Air Force Base, which is in San Angelo, Texas, and I’ll be going to school there to train to be an intel officer as my first assignment, and then I’ll figure out where I go after that,“ Graham said.
There are multiple entry points for ROTC. Students can apply for scholarships in high school or college. Recruiting Operations Officer at MIT Army ROTC Sean McDonough explained how he enrolls cadets.
“The application process is pretty simple: you contact me with a bunch of paperwork you fill out, and then you just start attending stuff. We’re pretty open enrollment, all the way through like most of the year, and there’s some ability to do some makeup training,” McDonough said.
For as much military training ROTC students receive, they also gain valuable life skills and personal values.
“You just gain confidence,“ Prieto said. “I learned to talk with my chest facing forward.”
“It’s given me … a value system that I like to use in my everyday life, and values like basically to be a good person, a good team member and a good leader,“ Graham said. “It’s also taught me to be a good follower, supporting my peers in the best way so that they can succeed and strong discipline … and then certainly attention to detail I would say, as well.“
Jake Caunedo, a Navy ROTC sophomore studying quantitative economics, noted how the ROTC program has expanded his skills in time management.
“Toward the end of the day, when some of my friends feel tired, I know [that] I can do this, I can do that, and I’ve also been up since 4:30 a.m. and I have to wake up at 4:30 a.m. again the next day. I’ve just gotten used to that, and it’s kind of expanded my idea of what you’re capable of,” Caundeo said.
Prieto expressed his gratitude for the ROTC program.
“It’s really made me the person I am today,” Prieto said. “I couldn’t be more grateful for that.”