Despite pandemic, ROTC adapting to help students enter the military

ROTC courses are now online, and students are asked to complete physical training on their own.

Sophomore Austin Morrow completes the last lap of his run at Hidden Ponds Park in Eden Prairie on Saturday, March 28. “Running is a big part of physical fitness,” he said.

Sophomore Austin Morrow completes the last lap of his run at Hidden Ponds Park in Eden Prairie on Saturday, March 28. “Running is a big part of physical fitness,” he said.

by Niamh Coomey

Despite major changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the University of Minnesota’s Reserve Officer Training Corps is working to ensure students’ commission into the military. 

Students in the ROTC program typically train in a large group and attend classes with others in their year. Now, students are exercising at home and taking classes online. ROTC leaders are working to keep students on track while following COVID-19 safety guidelines.

Maj. Melissa Hoaglin said leaders are considering several options to assure students’ entry into the military. The Army may waive certain tests until cadets get to their positions in the military or use test results from earlier in the year, she said.

Aside from medical reasons, commissions will not be delayed because of COVID-19 related limitations, Hoaglin said. 

Leaders are also discussing ways to adapt Advanced Camp this summer without disadvantaging students, she said. For juniors, this training camp helps determine their rank among peers, which contributes to where they work in the military.

Capt. Nicholie Bufkin said students in the naval program completed the necessary requirements earlier this year, making them well-positioned to commission after graduation. The ceremony will potentially take place over Zoom.

Lt. Col. Christopher Hughes said he does not see the timeline changing for Air Force ROTC students either, as the Air Force still needs new officers.

Army ROTC sophomore Austin Morrow said while it was smart to move to online classes, it can be difficult to learn skills remotely.

“It’s kind of hard to not really be able to get that hands-on learning and focusing more on readings instead of actually … hearing people’s stories and how they would actually go about it. Because a lot of times what you read is different than how things actually are,” he said.

Addison Scufsa, a sophomore in the program, said completing physical training alone has not been a drawback, as he is now able to tailor it to his individual needs. However, Scufsa said he misses meeting in person with his class because of the chemistry they had as a group.

Switching to online instruction has some positives for Army ROTC students though, Hoaglin said, because it teaches students online communication skills they will use in the military.

“Being geographically dispersed across the globe is a common thing that they will deal with so this is a good experience for them,” she said.

University of St. Thomas senior Alec Farrell said doing ROTC classes online is different because the program is very group-oriented. Many students at St. Thomas University participate in the University of Minnesota’s ROTC program. 

“Not being in that class is really weird because you’ve done that for four years, right, like we’ve all kind of grown up through the ranks together,” he said.

Scufsa emphasized that the disappointment University students are feeling about sports and other activities being canceled is the same for ROTC students.

“We’re trying to deal with it the same way everyone else is and for seniors, who this was like their last competition and stuff, it’s just as hard,” he said.