UI ROTC numbers climbing sharply


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The battalion photo of the UI’s ROTC cadets has gotten wider every year recently.

The group has grown from 32 contracted cadets in 2005 to 83 this year. And all of the future army officers — dressed in camouflage uniforms — performed exercises March 28 at Sugar Bottom Recreational Area that, for many, would serve as preparation for working in war zones all over the world.

“You go from being a senior in college to being responsible for 30 people’s lives,” said cadet Craig Robbins, last semester’s cadet battalion commander.

The program prepares students to be officers in the military while going to school full-time.

While the UI’s battalion has grown explosively since 2005, national enrollment has grown by around 2,000 per year since 2006. Nationally, the number of officers commissioned dropped from 4,408 in 2004 to 4,050 in 2006, before shooting up to 4,300 in 2008, according to numbers from the Army ROTC. That number is expected to continue to rise.

While the economic benefits of ROTC — which boasts leadership training that can be applied to civilian jobs — including a full scholarship and hefty stipend for contracted cadets, are seemingly enticing in the current situation, Robbins said ROTC started seeing increases before the current economic collapse.

“If it’s not something you’re interested in anyway, you’re going to be miserable,” he said, and most people join because they are interested in public service, have a military family tradition, or already served overseas but now want to move into leadership positions while gaining a degree.

“I didn’t see myself doing the 9 to 5 job,” said cadet battalion commander Kellen Yeager, who will be a finance officer when he joins active duty after graduating in May. “I truly believe the U.S. Army makes a positive influence in the world, and I wanted to be part of that wonderful accomplishment.”

Robbins, who will join the National Guard while pursuing a career in law enforcement, greeted his superiors with a salute when he arrived at the Coralville training site, then joked with them about military food as the group smoothly navigated through fallen branches and mud on the way to the reconnaissance lane, one of six training areas.

Once he arrived at the lane, however, he cast a critical eye over the younger cadets. Seniors in the program are responsible for evaluating juniors as they lead their squads of nine to 12 toward an “objective.”

UI senior and cadet Joe Poch stood over cadet Samuel Crothers, a UI junior, as Crothers received his “mission” and began to formulate a plan.

“Think conceptually what you want to do,” Poch told the younger men and women. “You’ve got this, no problem,” he said as Crothers bent over a terrain model kit — a seemingly random collection of multi-colored shapes to help plan the route toward the enemy camp — in the dirt. After an explanation of the mission and a brief rehearsal, the group began moving toward its objective.

Two groups of three cadets sneaked off in opposite directions using only hand signals to communicate. Both were soon lost behind grass or a low ridgeline.

“I can’t see the other team,” Robbins said, scanning the landscape. “That’s a good thing.”

While ROTC is perhaps most visible when bringing the flag in at every Hawkeye football game, the organization is a four-year program with varying levels of involvement. Many students sign on, without obligation, for the two-year basic course. Others sign contracts pledging to continue their training and serve the military after earning a degree of their choice.

The program includes classroom instruction, leadership labs, and fitness training, said Lt. Col. Anthony Wolf, a UI assistant professor of military science.

After completing its mission, the squad gathered for an evaluation, the members shivering slightly in the snow with a stiff wind blowing against them as Lt. Col. Randall Millers, a UI professor of military science, completed his remarks.

“You are training to lead soldiers into combat,” he said.

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