ROTC is about opportunity

  • Published
  • By Col. John M. McCain
  • Commander, Air Force ROTC
It's 7:30 on a fall Tuesday morning on the campus of the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology. While many college students are still asleep or
just waking up, cadets from MIT's Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps
Detachment 365 are gathering for their physical training class. Physical
Training, or PT, is just one aspect of a challenging AFROTC program, and
these cadets, joined by two from nearby Harvard University, are doing what
thousands of their fellow cadets are also doing across the nation-competing
for the opportunity to earn a commission in the U.S. Air Force.

Diane Mazur, in her Oct. 24 New York Times opinion article, describes what
she sees as a military drifting away from the nation it serves. She implies
there is a "growing distance between civil and military America." Ms.
Mazur's article could lead one to believe that military readiness itself is
at stake because ROTC organizations are no longer hosted by a limited number
of Ivy League or prestigious/elite schools.

A look at the facts reveals a different reality.

Air Force ROTC is the oldest and largest source of commissioned officers for
the service. Detachments, a permanent campus presence, are located on 144
college and university campuses across the nation. Additionally, cross-town
agreements are in place with more than 1,100 colleges and universities in
proximity to the host detachment. What many may not realize is that AFROTC
has cross-town agreements with five of the eight Ivy League schools, and
Cornell University hosts an AFROTC detachment, as well as Army and Navy ROTC
programs. In reality, all Ivy League and nationally recognized prestigious
schools have a host or cross-town relationship with at least one of the
services' ROTC programs.

The military recognizes the student leadership talent resident at our elite
institutions, and today we have AFROTC detachments at prestigious schools
like MIT, Duke, and Notre Dame. Enrollment in AFROTC from Ivy League
schools and prestigious universities currently sits at 138, with 111 of
these cadets on scholarship. In fact, the Air Force Cadet of the Year for
2009, the top cadet from among cadets attending the US Air Force Academy,
AFROTC, and Air Force Officer Training School, was a cadet from MIT.

The Air Force embraces, and highly values, the intellectual and leadership
centers of excellence in America's elite academic institutions. Air
University, the organization AFROTC has been assigned to since 1952, has had
over the years many luminaries of higher education on its Board of Visitors,
including the presidents of Harvard, Stanford, Notre Dame, UCLA, University
of California-Berkeley, MIT, Johns Hopkins, and Columbia.

The military's ROTC programs are all about opportunity-the opportunity to
compete for a commission as an officer and to serve the nation and all that
it stands for. These opportunities exist today for Ivy League and
prestigious university students through on-campus detachments or robust
cross-town affiliations. The more than 16,000 cadets currently enrolled in
the AFROTC program come from all walks of life and all areas of the country.
Increasing representation of diverse backgrounds in the military is a
DOD-wide goal, and the Air Force is working hard to increase minority
representation in its officer corps. Our strength lies in diversity of
background, culture, thought, and experience.

Commissions are earned, not given. In today's environment, which sees
thousands desiring a commission via AFROTC in an Air Force with limited
annual officer requirements, earning a commission is extremely
competitive-the most competitive in recent history. The quality of cadets
earning scholarships has never been higher. They score an average of 1,254
on their SATs, 28 on their ACTs, and rank in the top 15 percent of their
high school graduating classes. The average GPA of an AFROTC graduate
earning a commission as a second lieutenant is 3.18. These are statistics
of which Americans should be proud.

At most universities today (including Ivy League/elite universities)
opportunities exist for interested young Americans to pursue an Air Force,
Army, Navy, or Marine Corps commission through ROTC. The Profession of Arms
is all about service to the nation. How many of those attending the
nation's top academic institutions will choose to join the Profession of
Arms? As Secretary of Defense Robert Gates stated in his Sept 29 lecture at
Duke University, "a return of ROTC back to some of these campuses will not
do much good without the willingness of our nation's most gifted students to
step forward. Men and women such as you."

The military deserves America's best and brightest, irrespective of the
university supplying their education. Students at Ivy League and other
prestigious schools need only step forward to enter the competition.