Student Soldiers : Most students don’t think of ROTC as a campus job that pays for college and guarantees employment after graduation. It does, with a few heavy strings attached.
John G almost didn’t go to college. Growing up in El Paso, Texas, he knew it was a luxury his family couldn’t afford.
“No one in my family had ever done it, and I pretty much figured I wouldn’t be the first.”
But John is now a junior at the University of Texas. What’s more, when he graduates next year he will be guaranteed a career with better vacation, health and retirement benefits than virtually any of his peers.
He’s going into the Army.
“They’ve paid for my education, they pay for my housing, they’re giving me a job. It’s a pretty great deal,” he said.
Like thousands of students at colleges across the country, John is in the Reserve Officer’s Training Corp. In return for five hours a week while he’s in school, and eight years of full service after he graduates, Uncle Sam is giving him a full, four year ride. On top of that, once a week he gets to go to class dressed up in camouflage.
“Yeah,” he admits, “the camo is pretty cool.” The Army, Navy and Air Force all operate ROTC programs. Their purpose is to transform ordinary college students into confident, prepared officers.
And if you don’t mind the commitment, ROTC scholarships are remarkably easy to get. While they vary slightly from school to school, basic requirements include a mere 2.0 GPA, SAT scores above 950 and U.S. citizenship with no outstanding criminal record. In most cases a cadet must also be younger than thirty at the time they are commissioned.
Even with today’s scaled-back military, “there’s a lot of money to be had,” said Gold Bar Recruiter Lieutenant Mattocks of the University of Texas. “Every year we have scholarships left over.”
These leftovers aren’t small scholarships, either. They include up to $72,000 for housing and tuition over four years, in addition to an annual $450 for books and a $150 monthly stipend.
Usually the post-graduate commitment is two years for every one year of scholarship. However, the average officer serves only three or four years of their commitment on active duty. The remainder can be served in the reserves.
The money doesn’t stop coming when you graduate, either. After a short period of active duty and for a longer commitment Uncle Sam will pay for up to eighty percent of graduate work.
The first two years of ROTC are spent developing general skills, such as how to read a map, operate a radio and perform first aid. Physical fitness is also emphasized. The third and fourth years are focused on more specific abilities that an officer must possess.
For those who would like to dip their feet in without taking the plunge, ROTC can also be taken as a normal elective class for up to two years without any obligation.
“For students who do not want to go into the military, it gives them an extra curricular activity that looks good on their resume,” said Mattocks. “They can develop practical leadership and management skills, and then have an opportunity to exercise those skills.”