Students test ROTC, no strings attached

Officers liken those who drop ROTC to students switching their major.

by Jill Jensen

Austin Knott broke family tradition when he quit the Army ROTC program.
With a chief petty officer in the Navy reserve for a father, Knott planned to join the military out of college but preferred the âÄúfreedom to choose where I want to live and work where I want to work.âÄù
HeâÄôs one of 17 freshmen at the University of Minnesota to quit the ROTC this year. For some, the program wasnâÄôt what they expected, or it took up more time than they could commit.
For Knott, âÄúI essentially just said âÄòI donâÄôt think itâÄôs for me.âÄôâÄù
Maj. Doug Leonard, professor of military science, compared the number of freshmen who leave the program to the number of freshmen who change majors during their first year.
âÄúItâÄôs the freshmen who donâÄôt know much about the Army at all when they get started with us,âÄù Leonard said.
Of the 25 freshmen enrolled in the Army ROTC at the beginning of the fall semester, four quit after their first semester but were replaced by an additional four. The Air Force ROTC lost five of its original 20 recruits, according to Joel Fortenberry, commander of the Air Force ROTC Detachment 415.
Though three of the seven Marine Option freshmen and five of the 18 Navy Option freshmen quit, Keith Wettschreck, executive officer for the Naval ROTC Unit, said the freshmen drop rate is âÄúnot alarming.âÄù
Wettschreck said the âÄúshockâÄù of attending the University and the time demanded of midshipmen, as well as the activities that vie for their time, can account for the number of freshmen who quit.
Richard Shmel, a freshman in the Army ROTC, said some jobs in the military donâÄôt leave a  lot time for family or a social life. For that reason, he said he can understand why some freshmen quit.
âÄúWhen the Army tells you to jump,âÄù Shmel said, âÄúyou say âÄòhow high?âÄôâÄù
Josh Worley, a freshman  who quit the Air Force ROTC program after his first semester, grew up in a military family, moving around from places like Japan to Florida or Alaska every few years, he said.
The promise of a stable paycheck, great benefits and a career enticed Worley to join the program, but ultimately he decided to pursue a possible major in film.
âÄúI just wanted to do something more creative with my life,âÄù Worley said.
But he said still misses the program and would consider joining the military in the future.
âÄúItâÄôs like a giant family,âÄù Worley said. âÄúItâÄôs nice to have that secure feeling.âÄù
No strings attached
An ROTC freshman under scholarship could potentially complete one year and quit, without any commitment to the military or obligation to pay back the money.
But Wettschreck believes a âÄúcollege programmerâÄù âÄî a midshipman not on scholarship âÄî is just as likely to drop as one on scholarship.
âÄúKids donâÄôt come in here with the express thought of doing the first year and then leaving,âÄù Wettschreck said. âÄúI donâÄôt think they come in here with that in mind from the get-go.âÄù
Leonard said the Army ROTC has not had any instances where they have been worried someone is âÄúscammingâÄù the program by enrolling in the ROTC with the intention of dropping it after their first year in order to take advantage of free tuition. He said most of the freshmen who quit the program are not under scholarship.
They are also given a stipend, intended to help students get through college without having to drop out for financial reasons, Leonard said.
Knott said he has only heard rumors of fellow cadets who take advantage of the no-strings-attached policy of the scholarship.
âÄúItâÄôs not widespread if it is [going on],âÄù he said.
Prior to dropping out, Knott had been working toward a scholarship, dedicating about six or seven hours of his week to the Army ROTC program through mandatory early morning physical training and a one-credit course in military science.
âÄúPush-ups, sit-ups and running are the usual diet,âÄù Knott said.
Knott and Shmel both note there are several opportunities within the program.
Shmel takes part in additional Army ROTC activities, including the Ranger Challenge team, which trains an additional two days a week, and a rifle drill team, the âÄúcolor guardâÄù of the military, he said. If selected, Shmel could also have the chance to âÄúgo overseas and do exercises with foreign militaries.âÄù
âÄúI live, breathe and sleep Army,âÄù said Shmel, who tacks on âÄúhooahâÄùâÄî a phrase used to answer commandersâÄô questions which he said means everything except no âÄî in everyday conversation.
Though Knott still lives in the ROTC Living Learning Community with cadets like Shmel, their paths will diverge after this year. Knott will pursue the path of a civilian and Shmel will fulfill his contract with the military.
âÄúI signed on the dotted line,âÄù Shmel said.