For students in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps or ROTC, the school day often begins at 5 a.m. Cadets wake up, put on their training uniforms and head out to the intramural field for physical training at 6 a.m.
But one thing they should not do, according to first-year cadet Crawford Emory, is eat breakfast before training. The intense combination of calisthenic exercises and cardio often causes young cadets to lose whatever they ate that morning.
“I made that mistake twice,” Emory said.
ROTC functions as an undergraduate training program for college students who want to become officers in the U.S. Army. The physical training that cadets must complete several times a week is just one of many aspects of the highly-regimented program that has been preparing students for service for around 150 years.
Often described by cadets as a program that requires great dedication, ROTC includes a 3-hour credit course wherein cadets put leadership and survival skills to the test while wearing full Army Combat Uniforms. ROTC also has a handbook of conduct that regulates many aspects of hygiene and behavior.
You will never see a male cadet with long hair or a beard, or a female cadet with her hair down. Elizabeth Paez, a sophomore cadet in her first year of the program, notes that even the height of a cadet’s foot above the ground while marching is outlined in ROTC protocol.
“Everything in the Army is standardized to a tee,” Paez said. “You have to have disciplined and driven. ... It definitely takes a certain kind of person to stick it out.”
Despite the perceived strictness of the program, however, cadets are quick to point out that any student with a desire to lead and to serve can make it in ROTC. The Corps does whip students into shape and asks that they balance training with a regular class schedule, but it also provides resources to help students reach their fullest potential.
“If you want to be there, show that you want to be there. Show that you want to be productive and a productive leader, and they’ll be happy to have you,” Emory said. “They genuinely want to see people succeed.”
ROTC also prepares students for life after graduation by developing strong leadership skills, as well as providing students with a plethora of practical knowledge, such as how to use a compass and protractor to locate critical areas.
Paez, who hopes to serve in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps after the military has paid for her law degree, says that ROTC provides dedicated students with lessons that will help them succeed after graduation.
“One of my favorite mantras is ‘show up at the right time, in the right uniform, with the right attitude,’” Paez said.
After sophomore year, cadets are given the choice of either becoming contracted into the military or leaving the program.
Once contracted, cadets become part of the military and gain new authority within the program. After graduation, they can look forward to serving four years in active duty roles or eight years in the reserves. Many ROTC students, like Paez, will apply to graduate school during or after their service, which the military is often willing to pay for.
Besides requiring cadets to sacrifice the lazy mornings of college to wake for physical training, the ROTC program at UT seems to offer only benefits to its students, so long as they are willing to put in the necessary work.
For many years, top universities required that all male undergraduate students participated in the program, and it is not only the hyper athletic who participate. ROTC has aspiring lawyers, artists, scholars, doctors, accountants and every guy and girl in-between. And as for the fitness side of things, as long as you can pass the basic physical tests, which include push-ups, sit-ups and a 2-mile run, you are good to go.
“Once you’re in shape, nobody will bother you about anything,” Emory said.