ROTC marches back onto campuses
Boston — It was a casualty of the Vietnam war -- hounded off college campuses by young Americans outraged at what the US military was doing in Southeast Asia. When the war ended, Reserve Officers' Training Corps forces were depleted and ROTC campus offices relegated to tiny rooms in dim basements.
But "ROTCY," as it is called on campus, has rebounded strongly in the last two years. It commands new attention from more interested in training for careers than protesting war.
Soaring tuition costs are a factor. A four-year scholarship in exchange for four years of active duty doesn't seem like such a bad deal -- especially in peacetime.
The number of students enrolling in the Army ROTC program this year tripled from 2,000 in 1979 to 6,000 in '80, amounting to almost a 10 percent overall increase (current total 69,663). It is the largest single-year jump in the last five years.
The Air Force ROTC program boasts an enrollment boost of 10 percent over the last two years. This has come after a 10- year decline.
but what, precisely, is the attraction? And why now?
In this period of plenty, ROTC students and military personnel are eager to explain the renewed sparkle in their eye.
"Maybe because of Iran and Afghanistan people look a little more favorably on ROTC. It's a different story now than in the late '60s and early '70s. I don't think there is any great animosity on campus [toward ROTC]. It's pretty mellow, " says Boston University sophomore Tom Radican after six months in ROTC.
One Air Force official says: "The increases are due to draft registration, which gets people thinking about the military, and it's the serious-mindedness of students today. These students are in college preparing for jobs and that's different from what they were doing in the '60s."
Northeastern University ROTC senior Bruce Alexander agrees: "There is a trend throughout all the universities in this country for people to be more concerned with their career aspirations. People are far less concerned about politics. They look at the military as a way to get ahead -- to forward their civilian careers."
Indeed, this sentiment is echoed by many ROTC students and their superiors. But most would agree that, ultimately, money is the magnet that attracts the most students.
"Although there are a lot of other reasons why I joined, I imagine that deep down it was the $100 a month that attracted me," confesses Tom Radican. "And I know a lot of kids that get in for the scholarship. They figure, 'Hey, this will pay for school. I'll put in my three or four years after graduation and I'm gone.'"
And universities are also finding ROTC at the end of the rainbow.
"Schools are in real trouble today with declining enrollment. They look to new programs to draw students, and ROTC fits that bill," states an Army spokesman.
Responding to the growing scholarship demand, in November 1980 an additional 5,500 scholarship openings were authorized for the Army. Although funds are allocated for the 1981- 82 school year will increase scholarships by only 2,000, it is the first boost in scholarships in 10 years and the highest number ever funded (8,500).
The Air Force also received the nod from Congress for more money. Since 1975 funding has increased annually and in Octover 1980 the Air Force was given full funding for the 6,500 scholarships allotted by law in 1971.
The Navy is close to full funding. By law, the Navy can provide 6,000 scholarships. As of Oct. 31, 1980, funds for 5,971 scholarships had been authorized.
What kinds of students are putting on khakis this days? Well, they "are not mama's boys with crew cuts, glasses, and sweaters," declares Ana Romero, a junior at Northeastern.
Tom Radican couldn't agree more. "The media talk about the comeback of the ROTC and make us look like a bunch of gung-ho rebels. [They say] that we join up so we can kill [people] or punish Iran. That turns me off. None of the guys I know are these real macho types -- my-country-right-or-wrong types. I look at the Army as a force for defending what we have. I'm not a jingoistic philosophy ," he adds.
If one were to make a composite sketch of the ROTC student today, that student would probably be a serious, level-headed, middle- class, and moderately studious person with an abiding concern for his or her career. Political leanings (at least from samples taken in the Northeast) would be anywhere from a socialist to conservative. ROTC appeals to this student as a secure vehicle by which he can get college paid for, get experience in the field of his choice, and then head into the business world an advantage over the rest of his peers. And, yes, he is patriotic. but it is a reserved patriotism. Most don't look upon ROTC as an opportunity for combat. Most don't expect to have to fight.
"Fighting is the farthest thing from my mind," states Tom Downs, a junior at BU.
Whatever the causes behind increased ROTC participation, evidence continues to mount pointing to the ever more brightly glowing health of ROTC programs across the nation. Even the hard-core anti-Vietnam schools in the Northeast have begun to soften toward ROTC.
In the late 1960s and early '70s, strong antiwar sentiment in the Northeast forced apparoximately 13 institutions to drop ROTC. In December 1980, Boston University became the first to return the fold.
After a six-month stint as an extension center of Northeastern University, BU became a full-fledged Army ROTC host institution. And next year, the Air Force also expects to have an ROTC unit at BU.
Capt. Don Besh, head of the Army ROTC program at BU, says he thinks it portends "the beginning of an extension of ROTC back to universities that have had ROTC in the past."
There is already some evidence to support Captain Besh's prediction. More than half of the schools that once dropped ROTC now have a growing student interest in the program. Students at Harvard University, Tufts University, Dartmouth College, Boston College, Pratt Institute, New York University, and Yale University are taking the trouble to go off campus to get ROTC classes not offered at their own schools.
Further indication of growing acceptance of ROTC in the traditionally liberal Northeast is found at Northeastern University in Boston. At the start of the school year Northeastern had the third largest number of Army ROTC juniors under contract in the continental United States. Texas A & M and New Mexico Military Institute led the pack.
The Army has moved quickly throughout the country to take advantage of the renewed interest in ROTC. It is conducting a nationwide two-year program to increase the number of schools providing ROTC training.
"Expand the Base," part one of the program, began in March 1980. In that year, 41 new extension centers and 8 new host institutions were established.
Part two will go into effect this month. The goals this year will be set up 24 extension centers and 4 host institutions.
Institutional Increase. BEfore this program began, the Army ROTC program picked up four schools in 1979 and eight more joined up as part of the program in 1980 (current total 283). This increase came after an eight-year decline in schools offering ROTC.
Tha air Force brought three new schools into the fold last year and two more this year (current total 144). One Air Force official predicts another nine before the year's end.
The Navy, limited by Congress to 55 schools, has 55 schools participating in the ROTC program and 30 more on a waiting list.
Probation Decline. Another indication of the strength of the ROTC comeback lies in the reduction of schools with ROTC on probation.
All three branches of the armed services conduct a yearly evaluation of each institution with an ROTC program. An institution with 17 or fewer juniors participating in the program is put on probation. IF this situation continues for a year or more, the institution stands to lose its ROTC program.
Five years ago the Army had 80 institutions on probation; just 10 are on probation now.
The Air Force has five schools on probation. In past years, the average number of ROTC units on probation per year was 14, according to an Air Force Pentagon official.
Junior ROTC. Even at the high school level, where money is not a strong incentive for participation, support has grown for the Junior ROTC program.
Army enrollment surged by more than 5,000 students (from a total of 140,608 to 145,639) this year. Enrollment had been on a slide for the last five years.
Air Force Junior ROTC has the highest enrollment in eight years. It climbed by more than 3,500 students this year (from 33,178 to 36,730).
Precise figures for the Navy Junior ROTC program were unavailable, but one source reported that "there really is growing interest being shown in the high school program."
Despite the avalanche of en couraging figures, cautious optimism is still all most ROTC spokesman will allow themselves. "They're not knocking down our doors ," says one Pentagon official trying to put things in perspective, "but they are coming back."