Oct. 5-11, 2001
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ROTC puts its best foot forward
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ROTC puts its best foot forward
ROTC puts best foot forward
Fariss Samarrai
During a recent ceremony, members of U.Va.’s Reserve Officers Training Corps programs honor U.S. prisoners of war, hundreds of whom are unaccounted for after conflicts such as the Korean and Vietnam wars.

By Fariss Samarrai

Before graduating last May from U.Va. with a foreign affairs degree, Navy Ensign Michael Goldston was a member of the Navy ROTC program here. Last week, he entered aviation school at Pensacola Naval Air Station in Florida.

About two-thirds of the commissioned officers in the military receive their initial training in ROTC (Reserve Officers Training Corps) programs at universities around the nation. The purpose of ROTC is to provide initial leadership training for future naval and military officers. Many of these students receive full scholarships and stipends and are committed to a minimum of four years of active service. The programs include a combination of naval or military science classes, weekly drills and summer training at military posts or aboard Navy ships and aircraft.

As a student, Goldston often debated foreign policy with close friends who were opposed to military service.

“One of the great things about a democracy and a great school like U.Va. is that we can openly discuss our differences and hopefully find some intelligent common ground,” he said. “Unfortunately, this is not so true in much of the rest of the world. We shouldn’t take these freedoms lightly. We all need to work in our own way for freedom.”

The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, and President Bush’s subsequent deployment of U.S. troops, has brought home the seriousness of a ROTC commitment for midshipmen and cadets. Two hundred thirty-eight students are currently enrolled in U.Va.’s Air Force, Army and Navy ROTC programs. These students could eventually serve in this or other wars after graduation and further military training.

“Our students are feeling a heightened awareness of what they are doing as future officers in the Air Force, and of what it means for the future of America,” said Capt. Eunice Ciskowski, assistant professor of air science in the Air Force ROTC program.

“I realize that if we get into a lengthy war, I could eventually be sent to a combat zone,” said Jamie Sullivan, a fourth-year English major in the Army ROTC program. “My family and friends are worried, but I feel a greater sense of responsibility. I want to do more than just donate blood. We are a superpower, and that brings great responsibilities.”

Sullivan is, in a sense, stepping into the boots of her father, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who lost 35 friends and colleagues in the attack on the Pentagon. Her older sister is a West Point graduate and combat engineer with the 82nd Airborne Division. Her younger sister is planning to enroll in a ROTC program when she begins college next year.

“It’s a family tradition,” Sullivan said. “I’ve been around the military my whole life and it’s a part of who I am. My friends call me G.I. Jamie. ROTC has given me a sense of responsibility and discipline and great confidence. These are attributes I can carry with me through life, inside or outside the military.”

People who join the military, and students who enter a ROTC program, usually have a strong sense of duty to country, a patriotism that may seem old fashioned except in times of national crisis. About 75 percent of the officers in active or reserve service have a familial history with the military.

“People who don’t have a military background often don’t understand the military, but they do tend to support us during times of crisis,” said Army Lt. Col. Hampton Hite, chair of the Army ROTC program. Hite’s father also served in the Army. “Those of us in the military need to do a better job of communicating who we are and what we’re about. While we may be called to war at any time, our ultimate purpose is to deter war and maintain peace. Most people in the military feel they are working for peace every day.”

Some military people also feel a conflict between the desire to maintain peace and the realities of waging war.

“I am first and foremost a Christian,” said Goldston. “It was a long road for me to find my calling. I had to reconcile my desire to serve the country in the military with the commandment that ‘thou shalt not kill.’ I had many discussions with people inside and outside church, with my family and even with pacifists. I decided that, even if I was in an offensive attack, I would be fighting in defense of my country, which is a fight for the greater good of human rights, for an end of oppression, and for peace, which is promoted by the U.S. across the world. It is an honorable thing to stand and protect those ideals. The recent mass murder of civilians in New York demonstrates that this is still a dangerous world and we have a duty to protect our freedoms, even at great sacrifice.”

“The nation’s wars are fought by its young,” said Capt. Dick Bedford, commanding officer of the Navy ROTC program at U.Va. “The midshipmen and cadets we train here at U.Va. will follow in the long tradition of military officers who took the oath and have served their nation with honor. Our young men and women are ready and willing to take on the challenges that the new century brings.”

Bedford, an F-14 naval flight officer with 24 years of Navy service and a family history of military service, came to U.Va. this summer to head the Navy ROTC program. He began the initial training for his career in the ROTC program at Tulane University.

“Leading a ROTC program is one of the most sought-after jobs in the military, particularly for a program at a first-rate university like U.Va.,” he said. “The military needs the best and the brightest to lead our young sailors and soldiers. Some of the very best come from U.Va.”


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