"Reserve Officer Training Corps".

ROTC is an arrangement between many US colleges, and various branches of the US military. A student joins the Army or Navy or whatever, and that service pays the student's tuition. In return, the student is trained as an officer along with his or her ordinary education, and serves for a few years in the military after graduation. For the student, it's a chance to work one's way through college without taking on a crushing debt; for the military, it's a supplement to the military academies (Annapolis, West Point, etc.). A lot of students who couldn't afford to go to good schools have benefitted from ROTC programs. My understanding is that graduates of Annapolis, West Point, etc. sometimes aren't too impressed with ROTC officers, but I've spent no time in the military and can't vouch for that.

ROTC students tend to wander around campus in fatigues and boots and butch haircuts.

During the Vietnam era in the US, ROTC was controversial on many campuses. On some, it may be still.

I was an Army ROTC cadet at NC State. It was the thrilling experience of participating in the military (get up so early you want to kill, dress up like a tree) without the entanglements of indentured servitude. Unless they spiff you a big, fat scholarship.

One of the best things about ROTC was the fact that you got college credit for it, the classes were called, of all things Military Science - Military Science 101, 102, etc. The idea that there was anything scientific about it was but the tip of the iceberg as far as the absurdity of the military.

My free association list about ROTC:

  • I remember being so fucking proud getting my field jacket with a real Nametape, with my real name. I really felt like I was part of the Army. I guess this was the idea. I don't know how much this would impress me now, but at 18, I was jazzed.
  • When we would PT (physical training) - run in cadence, do low crawl, high crawl they would issue us these fake M-16's we all called "Rubber Ducks." They were weighted to have the same heft as the real thing. I remember thinking at the time, "Man this would have been the best toy gun ever!"
  • My MI, Military Instructor, the Major, would always ask everyone, "Getting laid, Cadet?" Now, in the chest-thumping culture of the Army, even the simulated Army of ROTC, the answer was always "Yes, sir!" Some of my more colorful fellow cadets would toss in, "Beating them off with a stick, sir!", which would produce the inevitable reply "I know what you're beating off, Cadet." I was the only one who was honest when asked this question: "No sir! zero action, sir!" This was always met with some variation on, "Well for Christ's sake, Cadet, get to work on that!" It was a routine that we would do. He would even quiz me in front of other cadets to see if I'd lie to save face. Finally, the day came when The Major asked, "Getting any, Cadet?" and I was able to answer with my shit-eating grin, "Sir, yes sir!" This literally stopped him in his tracks, and then - "Outfuckingstanding, Cadet, outstanding!"
I was in Air Force ROTC for a while, at the University of Florida. Even though everybody gives this as their excuse for not being a pilot, I can be serious when I say: I had to leave for medical reasons, it sucked. ROTC was fun.

AFROTC is the brain side of the Armed Forces cadet corps: the Army cadets are mostly big chest thumpers, as Igloowhite put it, and the Navy cadets are somewhere in between (there are hopeful pilots *and* hopeful Marines among their ranks, so you never really know what to expect). There were a lot of aeronautical engineering majors in AFROTC: I would say that half of the cadets were majoring in some form of engineering or another.

The best way I can describe it is as a co-ed fraternity with really sexy uniforms and its own unique method of hazing. Like a fraternity, we had awesome keggers, and even a house to hold them in (actually, it belonged to a few members of the drill team, but they would invite everyone over for parties). The juniors and seniors in the detachment were "POCs," or cadet officers, and the freshmen and sophomores were "GMCs," or cadet scum waiting to be shouted at by the POC's for messing up.

Also like a fraternity, we had a wonderful rivalry with the Navy and Army units downstairs. I still remember the sign on our refrigerator ("SNACKCOM") that said:

All items 50 cents (plus 25 cents "Army tax")
Now on to the hazing! Every week, we had a two-hour session called Leadlab, which would usually consist of marching maneuvers and other drills, but sometimes included war games and other fun stuff. Leadlab for the GMC's was preparation for Field Training, the ROTC euphemism for boot camp, and for the POC's it was preparation for active duty, so they got to lead things.

We had a wonderful little booklet called the Warrior Handbook to memorize: stuff like ranks, equipment, Air Force history, mottoes, creeds, what to do if you become a prisoner of war. POC's loved to pick on the lowly underclassmen by getting in their face and asking "What's the Air Force mission?" or "Sing the Air Force Song!" If you didn't know it, you would be doing pushups.

Pushups are an important part of ROTC life. There is an evil examination called the PFT that you must pass in order to stay in the program, and unless you can do 30 pushups within 2 minutes without stopping, you flunk out. (You also have to be able to do 45 situps in 2 minutes, and run 2 miles in 18 minutes. Not too difficult: the Army and Navy had it harder than we did.) Anyway, to keep us all at PFT highs, the POC's would order us out to do exercises at 5:30 AM two days a week, often liberally abusing their ability to extract more pain from us through Warrior Knowledge. The following exchange took place at six one morning:

POC: What's an E-3 in the Air Force?! Pyle!
Pyle: Errrr, a Senior Airman, sir?
POC: NO! Drop and gimme twenty! Pilgrim, you know what an E-3 is, don't you?!
Pilgrim: Um... a Sergeant? I mean... no, sir, no I don't.
POC: Then drop and gimme twenty! Sekicho, stop snickering! You know what an E-3 is?!
Sekicho: Uh, yeah, an E-3 Sentry is an AWACS platform based on the Boeing 707, sir.
(insert long silence here)
POC No. 2: Guess he *did* get it right...
Things I quickly learned from ROTC:
  • Shoe polish works best when applied along with saliva.
  • Your war face is never scary enough. Ever.
  • BDU parts take six months for the government to find/produce/steal, and another year to ship. This, despite the fact that Afghanistan can be turned into a wasteland within the same time frame...?
  • Every drill instructor thinks that liberally quoting Full Metal Jacket is witty.
  • Conformity is everything, until you become an officer, at which point you can do whatever you want as long as you stay away from China.
  • You can stand up in one place for several hours on end, as long as you never lock your legs! Once you lock your legs, you will pass out and die. Or so I heard.
Guess that about covers it.
Speaking from anecdote, there is a difference between the Naval Academy officer and the NROTC officer.

The NROTC officer is ordered to abandon ship, does so, and immediately drowns.

The Naval Academy officer abandons ship by performing a dive from a 10 meter platform, hits the water without sustaining injury, then swims underwater for at least 30 meters in full khaki uniform. Upon completion of the 10 meter dive and 30 meter underwater swim, he then performs a full trouser inflation and awaits rescue. When no rescue comes, he decides to swim for the coast. He successfully swims for 40 minutes demonstrating at least four different strokes with proper form while still wearing his uniform. At this point he then drowns.

All joking aside, there is little difference between an ROTC officer and an Academy officer. Originally, the Academy was intended to be the professional school of the "career" officers and a far more difficult road to travel, while the ROTC program would produce the "five and dive" short term officers. That simply is not the case anymore. My sponsor father is a P-3 Orion pilot, and an ROTC graduate from UCLA, having just finished up on 20 years.

There's really not much of a "quality of officer" issue anymore either. The best commanding officer I've had to date was an ROTC graduate from Florida. The current Commandant of Midshipmen is a Marine Corps colonel who graduated from the Naval Academy. He is not only erudite, but the kind of guy who would lead us into the valley of the shadow of death, and we would fear no evil because he is the baddest mother in the valley (TM). The deciding factor in the quality of an officer is the officer's desire to perform at their best, not the ring they wear on their finger or the diploma on their wall.

My personal opinion is that we have both the ROTC and the Academy because the American public respects and values both. The nation looks at ROTC as a way for average young adults to earn an education and serve their country. Meanwhile the Academies are an institution representing the values and morality of the nation. When the public ceases to will either into existence, it will cease to exist. It's that simple. Much like General Kelley said of the Marine Corps: "It exists because the Americans want it to". I think that while Academy grads always look at ROTC grads in a different light (mainly because the ROTC experience is intended to be different than the Academy experience), the mutual respect far outweighs the cliques that outsiders might believe would form.

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