ROTC frowns upon using Ventura to sell program

Kristin Gustafson

Eric Atkins remembers his first impression of Gov. Jesse Ventura. During last year’s homecoming parade, Atkins and eight other Navy ROTC students marched in the midst of heckles and taunts from Atkins’ University peers.
The freshman physics major’s straight-ahead stare demanded complete focus and control of his emotions, said Atkins. Smiling was not allowed.
But a stranger’s “good dirty joke” got Atkins to flinch.
Atkins later learned that the stranger, a former Navy SEAL, was also one of Minnesota’s gubernatorial candidates. Atkins said Ventura ribbed the group about how he, as a former enlisted man, actually had to work for a living. The Reserve Officers Training Corps trains students to be officers — those who will supervise the enlisted.
But, he said, Ventura also told the group, “I just want you guys to know how proud I am of you.”
Those words of support meant a lot to the freshman physics major. “It is almost never that you hear a public figure talk about the Navy,” Atkins said.
While Atkins and others from the ROTC said Ventura has had a positive impact on them, ROTC officials do not plan to use the governor’s image to recruit.
University feedback to the ROTC program is “mostly negative,” said Sarah Afshar, a Navy ROTC cadet. So she was proud when Ventura pointed out their group — dressed in Navy uniforms — at a January event. Afshar said Ventura told the audience that not only are they serving their country, but they found a smart way to pay for school.
Despite her pride, Afshar did not think the University ROTC should use Ventura to sell their program. “I don’t think a spokesperson or celebrity is needed for this.”
However, another branch of the Armed Forces has used Ventura’s image for recruitment.
Ventura “has generated a lot of interest in young people,” said Lt. Col. Denny Shields, University ROTC graduate and National Guard spokesman. The National Guard used Ventura’s picture in a mailing to high school recruits in December and received three times the usual response.
“Legally, the governor is commander in chief (of the National Guard),” Shields said. “Anyone that can involve the governor in their activities should.”
Yet despite this success, ROTC recruiters haven’t made the move.
“The idea hasn’t been entertained,” Army ROTC Capt. James Anderson said about pursuing an idea such as the National Guard mailer. He said it would be more appropriate to use the Army’s own commander in chief for a recruitment letter rather than Ventura.
“We are not in the game of politics,” Anderson said.
Capt. Anne Gosnell said the ROTC has invited Ventura to speak at the Tri-Service Review in the spring, but has no additional plans to use the governor. They have yet to hear anything from the governor.
“In general, we think it is a positive situation” having a governor with prior naval experience, said Navy ROTC Commander Robert Christensen.
ROTC’s primary focus is on graduating their cadets. Without their degree, students cannot obtain the promised officer status.
“I’m not sure how we’d be able to exploit it besides just being there to support him,” Atkins said of Ventura.
For Atkins, the fact that he didn’t know what he wanted to study and the promise of a job after graduation appealed to him.
And the financial assistance was a great help, he said. “But I’m not in it for the money.”
“I don’t know if you’ll ever see Jesse Ventura billboards up for the Navy,” said Navy ROTC Cadet Jolynn Vogt.
“He is better known for being a world wrestler than a Navy SEAL,” the junior child psychology major said.