A Look Back at ROTC

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The results of last week’s ROTC survey should be released later today. Before they are, Bwog encourages you to do some close-to-home back-reading on the issue–below, we’ve re-run Izumi Devalier’s article from the November 2005 issue of The Blue and White titled “Embedded in New York: Or, How I Learned to Stop Whining and Love ROTC.”

The average Columbia student knows about as much about ROTC as she knows about assembling a rifle. Guns don’t kill people, the thinking goes: ROTC students kill people.

 As for what they do when they’re not killing people (which, as it turns out, is always), most students draw a blank. To answer this question, I embedded myself with Columbia’s Reserve Officers’ Training Corps for a month, blending in about as well as a student clad in camouflage blends in on a crowded Manhattan sidewalk.

 My life as a soldier began on a bright Friday morning when I was supposed to meet Army Cadet Private Riaz Zaidi, C’08, at 0915 in front of the 116th gates. Friday is a big day for ROTC cadets, with classroom instruction and leadership labs. Unfortunately, Friday is also a big day for sleepers like myself, and I usually spend the hours before noon pleasantly incapacitated.

 As I stumbled out of my dorm and began sprinting to our meeting place, I panicked. Having failed to Facebook him in advance, I had no idea what Cadet Zaidi looked like. But then I spotted a tall figure sporting full camouflage and polished black boots. Thank God for conformity.

 Columbia students must trek to Fordham University to participate in the New York City Army ROTC program, and to Manhattan College for the Air Force Program. The result of this exile, imposed since 1969 when student rioters prompted Columbia to end the program, has been a gradual dwindling of cadet enlistment. This year, only five Columbia cadets are enrolled in the Army, and three in the Air Force, including a visiting student from Tulane University. Together, they keep a low profile on campus, evading hostile stares as they quietly reconcile their civilian and military lives.

On the subway ride to Fordham’s Lincoln Center Campus, Cadet Zaidi skimmed the ten pages of reading he was assigned from the First Year Military Science (MS) textbook. More than once, I caught passengers staring at him, perhaps suspecting Bloomberg had upgraded subway security. He didn’t seem to care.

When we arrived, the MS1 instructor, Major Riley, was already handing back the previous week’s quizzes. A handsome man in his thirties with closely cropped, dirty-blonde hair, Major Riley is the stuff of ROTC legend. For one, he is sickeningly fit: the Major scored a 414 on the extended scale of the Army’s Physical Fitness Test, which considers 300 a perfect score. He runs a five-minute mile, which he claims is “not that great at all,” and can perform 144 pushups in two minutes. Today he is teaching a tutorial on nutrition. Major Riley teaches with what one would call the Socratic method, had Socrates been a drill sergeant. Major Riley: “Why do we eat?” Cadet Pham, NYU ’09: “Sustenance, sir!” Major Riley: “What is your body?” Cadet Lombardo, Manhattan College ’09: “An organic process, sir!” This exchange was followed by a short lecture on the basic rules of healthy eating (“If it doesn’t grow, don’t eat it!”).

Then class adjourned, and I went back to my bag of Doritos.

 The following Wednesday, I set my alarm for the  ungodly hour of 0600 and joined in the Physical Training at Central Park. Even though PT sessions take place three times a week, Cadet 2nd Lieutenant Sean Wilkes, C’06, told me I should start on a Wednesday since it was “light on running.” For someone whose athletic regimen is limited to power-walking the stretch from Lerner Hall to the International Affairs Building when I have a poli sci paper due, this was good news.

 I should have known better. When Cadet Zaidi and I arrived at the southwestern entrance of Central Park, the other cadets had already begun filing into formation. Before I could gather what was going on, the senior cadet ordered everyone to begin marching. Then they started sprinting. I did not.

 I eventually found them stretching on a baseball diamond not far from where we had started. “Thank God that’s over,” I thought, proud of a hard day’s work. Sure, I was panting, but I had completed the run, however clumsily. I remember thinking, “Maybe I’m cut out for the army after all!”

 Then the real routine began. Crunches, plyometric jumps, leg lifts, reverse curls, squats, lunges, bicycle kicks, sit-ups, chin-ups, push-ups, push-ups with your arms close together, push-ups with your arms far apart, one-armed push-ups—did I mention push-ups? I tried to sit out of the exercises, but Major Riley caught me cheating and ordered me back. By the time we finished my body felt like it was disintegrating. But the other cadets seemed unfazed. After reviewing several marching drills, they dispersed and set off for their morning classes. I spent the rest of the day immobilized in bed.

I was allowed to participate in most ROTC activities despite having blown my cover early on (Major Riley: “So what publication are you from?”). Given my cursory military knowledge, derived from repeated viewings of Spy Game, I had expected the Army to be more secretive. You could say we had our own little Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy.

 Field Training, however, was off-limits. Apparently they require military ID on military bases, and my CUID didn’t count. Field Training allows cadets to apply the skills learned in the MS tutorials and leadership labs to simulated tactical programs, including weapons and survival training. Imagine a giant ropes course with hand grenades, 50-pound rucksacks, rifles, and a lot of shouting.

 But compared to some other ROTC regimens, Field Training coddles you. Cadet Wilkes described the Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Warfare exercises as “training seven days a week for five weeks,on about four to five hours of sleep a day, sometimes none. It’s grueling, but you survive.”

 In one Chemical Warfare exercise, Wilkes had to walk through a gas chamber filled with CS gas (ortho-chlorobenzylidene-malononitrile). Cadets wore gas masks, but were required to remove them in the middle of the room, state their name and social security number, and answer a simple question such as, “What’s one plus one?”

 Cadet Wilkes described the experience in the nonchalant verse of military poetry. “The purpose of this LDAC exercise is to give us experience with putting on our mask and MOPP suit in an NBC environment, and demonstrate the importance of doing so properly,” he said. 

“I have an Air Force tradition you might be interested in,” Air Force Cadet Bob Wray, C’06, told me. He was referring to Detachment 506’s quarter-annual “Dining-In” ceremony. “It’s a formal event, so you’ll have to wear a dress. And by the way, it’s on Long Island.”

 When Cadet Wray and I arrived at the American Legion Outpost 958 in East Rockaway, members of the Color Guard, the Air Force’s flag-bearing unit, were already practicing for the opening ceremony.  

 ‘Dining-In’ is basically a unit-based formal dinner with a military flavor,” Wray explained, as he carefully transcribed the names of guests onto beige place-cards. While he paced around the room frantically issuing orders (“Has someone asked Major Brown if he wants chicken marsala or roast beef?! Someone make sure the colonel has a parking spot!”), I wandered aimlessly, shaking hands with the 80 or so guests in attendance and making idle chatter with cadets, commissioned officers, and their civilian dates.

 One of my fellow civilians, Katherine, was a senior from NYU and by all accounts an ROTC groupie. As the roommate of a cadet, she had attended most of the detachment’s events. When I asked her why she hadn’t simply joined ROTC, she said she preferred being a “partial observer of the community. Plus the food is usually good.”

 When the guest of honor, Air Force Colonel John Ranck, arrived, we took our seats. The dinner began with a flag ceremony, followed by a memorial commemorating POWs and persons missing in action.

 The dinner itself was “scripted.” This meant that guests were treated to meticulously calibrated dialogue and strange military traditions such as the Grog ceremony, in which cadets devised witty stanzas exposing trivial infractions committed by fellow cadets (Sample: “I hereby spot a crooked bow / Off to the Grog you go!”). The loser drinks out of the Grog bowl, which normally contains a repulsive concoction of low-grade alcohols. But due to the underage audience, this particular Grog bowl contained a purple mixture of diet root beer, Red Bull, protein powder and Lucky Charms cereal.

By the time we had finished our desserts, I was beginning to see why these cadets were so attracted to ROTC. Beyond its military aspects the program offers a tight-knit community, much like a college fraternity, though it certainly has a different rhythm from the one most Columbians are used to.

 On the train ride back to Manhattan, the train conductor looked at our group—two of us in elegant dresses and three cadets in full uniform—and ex- claimed, “Hey guys, don’t you think it’s a little early for Halloween?” I thought about responding, but decided instead to enjoy the double life for a few more hours.

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  1. ...

    I find the cartoon ironic... prezbo actuall does NOT want you

  2. ...  

    Opposition to ROTC is not whining.

  3. CU ROTC

    This was just a glimpse. I don't think someone can really appreciate ROTC without placing it in context. ROTC produces military officers. NROTC, which we're debating, is a nice 2-for-1; it produces Naval and Marines officers. Riaz, Sean, Bob and other former cadets are currently in charge of missions that have profound impact on our foreign affairs, and more importantly, on the places and the people with whom their missions take place. Moreover, they are responsible for the lives and well-being of the men and women they lead.

    Because critical real-world responsibilities are given to ROTC grads very soon in their careers, they have a lot to learn in ROTC and they have to do it quickly. They can never stop learning. ROTC, as involved as it is, is just one early formative step.

    Why do I support NROTC at Columbia? Good input leads to good output. Young officers, more than just about any other of our recent graduates, have real-world effect and I believe the more that if Columbia is fully invested in educating officers and producing them, we'll be rewarded by more and better officers who make a positive difference in the world and for people.

    FYI, I'm not an ROTC grad, but I did serve with ROTC grads. It matters that we get this right.

    • statewins

      I second that. I wish my Commanding Officer right now was a CU grad. I'm not the biggest fan of dumbing down concepts, especially when lives are at stakes and difficult association matrices etc. need to be comprehended in order to complete the mission.

  4. Private Joker  

    Is that you, John Wayne? Is this me?

  5. Anonymous  

    sweet memories of JROTC!

    Junior ROTC, that which exists in high schools, is pretty much the same, with time spent on base, learning the history of the branch, doing physical training, and socializing in many events.

    Our Grog bowl though, included ketchup. Not so fun.

    Of course, I'm from a military town, so anything military-related is always seen in a good light. It's weird to now live here, where that idea is foreign.

  6. Anonymous

    Come on, fascists have the rest of America. Leave the left the universities. It's all we have left.

    Get it? All we have left?


    • Seriously, though

      The people who don't want NROTC at Columbia seem to harbor this strange notion that NROTC is replacing or at least displacing something on campus. It's not. One of the arguments for NROTC to be on campus is for more officers to be educated the Columbia way and to be exposed to everything Columbia, uniquely, has to offer. That proposal wouldn't work if NROTC was pushing something out of Columbia. NROTC is only adding and enriching, not taking anything away.

      • Anonymous

        Except for the lives of victims of America's imperialist wars.

        And please don't give me bullshit about how Sadaam killed and tortured more people than we do. We armed Iraq AND Iran (and everyone else for that matter). I have many problem with ROTC, but the main problem is that it allows us to more efficiently wage wars which, for the past 60 years at least, have never been undertaken for self-defense or the defense of others.

        • Wars...  

          declared by democratically elected presidents.

          There's plenty of blame to go around for lives lost.

          and "wars which, for the past 60 years at least, have never been undertaken for self-defense or the defense of others."

          Kosovo? Somalia?

          Lastly, we'll need an efficient military to clean up the mess that we've gotten ourselves into over the past 5 years without completely fucking over the Iraqi people. Your comment assumes that those in favor of ROTC or of staying in Iraq supported the initial invasion. The ignorance of your post is overwhelming.

          • Anonymous

            You think we helped people in Somalia? Laff. I'm the ignorant one? Kosovo? Possibly. But why did we go there when far more people were dying in Rwanda at the exact same moment? (Hint: it's not because we're such nice people)

            You are being hopelessly naive in your belief that the US military entered in those "wars" for humanitarian reasons, and that, even if it did, there were not more pressing economic and political concerns which overrode them. You're also being willfully ignorant by ignoring the far larger and more obviously Imperialist wars we have engaged in during the same era.

            You are being even more naive if you think the US will ever leave Iraq. Obama is not as liberal as my idiotic generation would like to believe. Sadly, they'll love him anyways. Yay America.

          • Anonymous

            Just to clarify, I don't think we're monsters or Nazis or anything. I just think we have absolutely no checks or balances on our military power. So a little more restraint would go a long way. It's not like the world is going to get any worse, since we never get involved in the truly terrible genocides anyway.

          • And Obviously

            Not allowing Columbia Students to enroll in NROTC will be a step towards helping all this!

          • Anonymous

            How do you figure? We went into Vietnam with Columbia ROTC members serving in the military. We sold weapons all around the globe while we had Columbia ROTC graduates in the military. What has changed now?

            I want the military to be as stupid, underfunded, and powerless as possible.

          • Strategic corporal

            We're in a different kind of war, with a different kind of enemey, in a different kind of global environment, and we have a different kind of military. Today's wars fall upon young officers who are simultaneously responsible for building the peace and fighting the war. Therefore, decision-making is required at lower levels of command (lieutenants, captains, majors) that used to be reserved for colonels and above, or were kept out of the military altogether.

            Explanation of "strategic corporal":

          • Anonymous

            Yeah, that's what everyone keeps saying. But I don't see how the "war on terror" is actually a war. It seems more like a "war on drugs," or another such world-wide law enforcement issue.

            Plus, the requirements for "young officers" you describe are identical to those required by post-WWII officers stationed in Europe.

          • statewins

            wow. i've argued civilly for three months, and i'm going to make a personal stab because i'm tired.

            anonymous #17, to further your goal, why don't you enlist? that'd go towards keeping the military stupid and powerless.

            thank you for humoring me during this brief moment of immaturity

          • Stopping genocide

            If we succeed in Iraq and Afghanistant, it makes it more likely we'll intervene in the "truly terrible genocides". Remove the distraction of politics, and the 'counter insurgency' abilities our military is learning in the War on Terror are exactly the same peace operations skills that are required for man-made humanitarian crises in non-permissive environments ... the kind that NGOs run away from when their personnel are kidnapped and killed, and other nations and the UN talk about but actually avoid.

            We didn't have the proper skill set to build the peace before OIF and OEF. In the the War on Terror, we're developing the skill set.

          • Anonymous

            Perhaps. But we're also building the skill-set to set up a secret world-wide police force which does not require warrants, open courts, or democratic processes of any kind.

            Do you trust your unelected CIA, NSA, FBI, and other organizational representatives to use this untraceable power in a positive way? If so, what reason do you have for trusting them? And why would they suddenly bother to stop genocides if the US has no political or economic gain in doing so?

          • True

            Any sizeable military mission requires a bottom-line expenditure of resources, blood and treasure, lives disrupted, political capital, commitments made, with opportunity cost. Meaning, there sure as heck better be a more sound reason for us to bear the costs, and they are long-term costs, than good intentions.

            One reason to intervene in man-made humanitarian crises is that the man-made threats to our globalizing world community are largely basing and originating from these areas. We can no longer ignore them, like we did before 9/11, unless we collectively decide a few tens, hundreds or even thousands killed every so often and critical infrastructure destroyed is a cost of business. If we don't ignore, then we can either attempt to firewall, which would only lead to increasingly extreme restrictions (ie, the secret world-wide police force you warn against), or we can attempt to intervene and solve problems causally at their source - peace building - so we can maintain both a freer and secure world.

            If we choose to solve problems, because of the danger, by necessity, our military will have to take the lead in peace building in non-permissive environments. Officers will be the center of gravity in these critical efforts. Of course, instead of the military, an alternative is to hire private military contractors, but for something so important on a broader scale, I prefer US military officers in charge. And I prefer as many as those officers as possible to be Columbia educated.

        • Go join  

          Al Qaeda, when they take a knife to your throat just for being an American, are about throw acid in your face just cause you're female, or hang you because you're gay you better not cry for help from the evil American soldiers who put their lives on the line for you everyday.

          • your analysis

            seems highly problematic. it seems to insinuate that al qaeda is a monolithic force akin to a nation-state where one is left with two options: engage in a "war" to prevent a transfer of power akin to subjugation, or by being passive one will be conquered. the problem is, terrorism doesn't operate like a nation-state -- it trades off an imperial might for the ability to disrupt and cause chaos. it just seems to me that the "american soldiers are protecting your freedoms" argument would only seem to work in a situation wherein the soldiers are fighting against a system that seeks to usurp power here...

        • pro-ROTC  

          Actually, here's why you should be pro-ROTC:

          1) Having ROTC or not doesn't determine whether those wars will be waged. That's up to the politicians who make the decision and the career military guys who advise them.

          2) I suspect that it would be a good thing to have more Columbians in the ROTC. If you accept the premise that the students of this school are generally left of center, or at the very least are pragmatic about things, and if you accept that people who go to this school are typically thoughtful about questions like when and how to go to war, then you should want more Columbians in the military. ROTC on our campus facilitates that (even if to only a minor extent), and this would put more Columbians on track to be career military people. I think the more of us that follow that path, the better because I sense a kind of pragmatism and thoughtfulness in our student body.

          (That being said, I know some people here at total idiots, based on what is said in class or written in Spec/Bwog/etc. But I'm generalizing, and I think that if you both go to Columbia and want to do ROTC, you are probably a very intelligent and service-oriented patriot who I hope would make up the military leadership in the coming decades. Apologies to anyone who hates these kinds of generalizations.)

          • listen  

            DADT. Address the real issues here.

          • pro-ROTC  

            let the government change the policy. don't put this on the military. i realize they take some of the blame, but DADT is a totally politicized issue. and who knows, maybe if we never got rid of ROTC in 1968, there might be a columbia alum high up in the services who would be pushing for a repeal of DADT. the point is, i dont' think DADT is a reason to shelter ourselves from a flawed institution, just as a ban on gay men donating blood is no reason to push to get blood drives off college walk.

  7. oh yes  

    and just remember that if you're gay, all this is off-limits for you.

  8. when do  

    we hear the results???

  9. BUT  

    When I think about it, wouldn't you rather have a Columbia student be an officer in an army than a kid that only graduated public high school?

    This is probably the only reason I could think for voting Yes on keeping ROTC or NROTC on campus.

    • Anonymous

      No. Unlike most elitists here, I don't value an Ivy League education above enthusiasm or desperation. I'd rather have the poorest and hungriest do every important job, because they seem to be the most determined to do it right.

    • Anon  

      Correct me if I'm wrong, but don't you have to go to college to become an officer?

      Also, what exactly about a Columbia education would make an officer better?

  10. just to point out  

    People do realize this is JUST about the NROTC program - all of the people who are talking about Columbia students being officers.... they can already do that in the army and the air force. And guess what? Only eight do. That's less than one percent. NROTC at Columbia would be a massive waste of resources, given that the Columbia student body has failed to show enough interest in actually sustaining a program, rather than juts allowing one on campus.

    If more people were enrolled in the ROTC programs already offered and there were several more who actually would participate in NROTC but couldn't, we might have an argument, but as it is, it's a rather moot point.

    • excuse me  

      The 'eight' statistic was for 2005 - it's even less now (I believe the number is five, but I'm not certain).

      Either way, don't quibble about two or three people this way or that. The point still stands.

      • There are  

        a number of us in the USMC platoon leaders course (basically ROTC in the summer), and some who are enlisting upon graduation.

        I would have done ROTC had it been offered on campus.

        It's foolish for you to even speculate how many people would join ROTC. Just because Columbia is filled with selfish America hating spoiled brat leftists now doesn't mean it will be like that in the future.

    • What if  

      there were only 8 fags in the faggot alliance? We might as well kick them off campus since it would be a waste.

  11. While  

    I'm disturbed by your willingness to shirk all responsibility (if you are a US citizen) for wars waged (Somalia and Kosovo included) when you were eligible to vote, I thank Bwog for the tracking system, which reminds us that such ignorance and willingness to shift the blame to others ("I want the military to be as stupid, underfunded, and powerless as possible" rather than "I want the officials elected by the political collective of which I am a part of to resort to war only when necessary / never.") are concentrated in only a few, unfortunate bodies.

    The military already advertises at Columbia (at CCE info sessions and at the not-for-profit career fair). So does the FBI and CIA. What have you done about that?

  12. oh....  

    the glory days of the blue and white....

  13. Anonymous

    To 40 and 41. Your wonderful idealism is heartwarming. However, you and I both know deep down that politicians don't care about sending the poor and the sociopathic somewhere far away to kill people who have darker skin than we do if defense contractors are giving them kickbacks. Since I will never vote for a major party, no representative in the national legislature will ever vote for me, and therefore, I have no reason to trust any of them to do what I would like.

    But even if I was a member of a major party, I doubt they'd do what I want anyway. Since the Congress doesn't seem to care about pesky constitutional ideas like declarations of war or checking the executive branch, I would prefer to just have an inept an unwieldy military because I, unlike you, am a conservative pragmatist.

  14. wow  

    Since this Anonymous person (see #9, 12, 14,....) is writing from a non-Columbia URL, I am just going to write him/her off as some irrelevant lunatic. Not that we don't have plenty, of irrelevant lunatics at Columbia, but you my friend are a special breed.

  15. no...  

    its not really idealism. i think it's pretty realistic to think that the military could use some columbians in it. you underestimate the impact that career servicemen and women can have.

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