A New Officer Commissioning Program

A New Officer Commissioning Program

Article by: Tom Rozman

The Viet Nam War had been over for six years.  Defense budgets were tight.  Recruiting was challenged for the active force and particularly for the reserve components, the Army National Guard and the Army Reserve.  Officer commissioning through the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) Program was lagging.  To address these and other  challenges an innovative program was developed that pulled from several existing programs.  It recognized the challenge many American college students confronted in obtaining necessary financial support for completing their college educations.  The program was titled the Simultaneous Membership Program or SMP.

The idea of the program was that an Advanced ROTC cadet, while a member of a campus advanced ROTC program, could also serve simultaneously in an organized unit of the Army Reserve or the Army National Guard.  With standing in the ROTC and one of the Reserve Component troop programs, the student would enhance the military training experience while a student and would access financial compensation available from both programs.  In the latter case, the Army National Guard, the financial advantages were even more extensive.

The program targeted students who met the military prerequisites to contract into the last two years of the on campus officer training program.  Successful completion of these last two years would lead to a 2nd lieutenant’s commission into one of the three Army of the United States Components (Regular Army, Army Reserve and Army National Guard—eventually the commissioning of 2nd lieutenants into the Regular Army would be changed, all initial active duty oriented commissionings being Army Reserve).  If the prospective contracting candidate had successfully completed Army basic training, the ROTC Basic Program, and honor military school program, or was an honorably discharged veteran within the age limits, the candidate met the prerequisite condition.  There were other options such as a candidate who could document completion of comparable programs in another Army.

The SMP program was attractive to a student at the time in that the monthly stipend received as an advanced ROTC cadet provided some six  thousand dollars over the four semesters of the program.  As well, the cadet by being a member of a reserve component unit drew sergeant or pay grade E-5 level pay for all drill and active duty time.  This reserve component pay amounted to approximately the same amount that was provided to advanced ROTC cadets over the same two year period.  Combined with the advanced program stipend payments, the financial support to the student cadet became significant.  In the case of the National Guard cadet the financial benefits were as previously noted were even more so.

The Army National Guard being a state military force when not federalized for a national emergency presented another financial support opportunity for a student at a state public college or university.  The Guard, with its state emergency support role, justified consideration of an additional program, one that preceded the SMP program.

With state National Guard recruiting lagging and the Guard having the important state emergency role that it did, the National Guard and the state governments had decided on a program that allowed serving guardsmen to matriculate at state colleges and universities tuition free.  This program, combined with a National Guard oriented SMP cadet situation, amounted to well into approaching $20,000 in financial assistance, especially if the SMP cadet was presented and volunteered for additional unit training assemblies, the basis for Guard pay (the basic National Guard and Army Reserve program per year provided four paid four-hour Unit Training Assemblies [UTAs] per month, all four usually grouped into one weekend per month, and two weeks of active summer training at a military installation).

As attractive as all of the above seemed to all parties, a virtual  win-win, there was resistance, particularly in the Guard.  Guard leadership was of course in full support of the tuition program on the state campuses.  But the affiliation with ROTC caused many Guard leaders concern and some flatly resisted it. This proved particularly the case in a northeastern state.  In the view of many of the state’s Guard officers, the program wasn’t necessary—their state federally recognized officer candidate school (OCS) was providing lieutenants with others coming from ROTC and from active duty.  True these sources were not fully sufficient but they were considered adequate by some.

As well, many of the state’s officers were alumni of the state’s OCS program and saw the SMP program as competition with a revered institution.  There was also concern that in the current economy many of the SMP cadets on college graduation if competitive for active Army commissions, would take this route to an assured first salaried position of employment after graduation.

Some leadership would be needed in the state to get the SMP program off the ground.  An information campaign of sorts was provided by the ROTC Command and the Reserves but it was not particularly well thought out and the component that stood to gain the most from the program in the long run, the state Guard, was not in a good mood about it.

Someone needed to package up a series of presentations to leaders, particularly in the western part of the state, to sell the program and highlight its value added aspects to the Guard.  A senior captain at the state’s Land Grant University ROTC instructor group was assigned the task.

The officer, taking the materials as much as they were, coordinated with the state adjutant general and the Army Reserve components commands in the area with a series of briefings.  Several were smaller format to senior officers and several were large group presentations.  The captain realized that the presentations needed to outline the structure and working of the program but also what would the major benefits for the Guard be over time.

Analysis indicated that the Guard stood to enjoy some significant benefits.  Some of the key benefits follow.

  • The program was sufficiently attractive monetarily to college students and prospective college students that it would generate substantial numbers of high end recruits as it developed.
  • The recruits would likely have a great interest in performing additional drill time on necessary administrative and support tasks, a constant in Guard operations.
  • As the program matured a steady number of new officers would determine to commission in the Guard.
  • Of the officers who went on active duty, numbers of these officers would return to the Guard after their active duty tour, and some would return after longer periods bringing to the Guard the benefit of their active force experience.
  • The Guard units with SMP cadets and the campus ROTC Instructor groups stood to benefit by shared professional development and training opportunities.

Additionally, the captain determined from early data and its projection that the SMP program would not be in competition with the state’s OCS Program.  In fact, the programs would most likely compliment each other as the OCS program was generally accommodating a different demographic.  The numbers of graduates currently developing from both programs, sustaining production, and noting early demographic projections, indicated that the SMP Program would substantially improve a running shortfall situation.   But even at sustained combined program activity, the numbers of new officers commissioned would likely break even with needs.

Critical to developing a package that could articulate the benefits and synergy that might be expected from a full engagement of the SMP by the Guard, was the need to present, and be able to discuss, the opportunities and the practical programmatics in a way that would resonate with the Guard’s  leadership in the state.  The captain had several years of association with the state’s guard previously and came from family who had served for long periods in the Guard in a neighboring state.  He sensed the depth of the reservations.

Accordingly, the run up phone discussions, coordination and preparation of the presentations to be given took into account the Guard’s viewpoint.  It wove a theme into the work that emphasized the benefits to the Guard, near, mid and far term.  The approach worked as evidenced by 70 officers from all local units and as far away as the state headquarters attending one of the large conferences in the far western part of the state.

The discussions at the sessions were lively but rapidly moved into the constructive then supportive mode.  The smaller lead up sessions had done much to prepare the way.  Going forward from this watershed conference the program did implement in the state.

As the program initiated, issues did occur as might be expected in a new program of this kind.  But by and large thanks to the pre-work that had been done, not only by the ROTC Instructor Group, but others in the state and elsewhere, the program was almost instantly successful.  Units did have to achieve a comfort level on just what an SMP cadet was in their operations—most initially using them as junior NCOs or sub-lieutenants depending on capability.  The cadet unit found the SMP cadet over time to be a more experienced and grounded individual.

To the above, there were growing pains to degrees in how leadership styles experienced in the units and on campus worked in harness or where they did not and how to address the differences.  Regardless, the cadet was exposed to a wider array of functioning leadership in military environments that produced effective or less effective results.  In its own right, this was a powerful experiential leader development capability that paid dividends in maturing SMP Cadet leadership styles.

As the program matured it became a significant success story realizing many of the benefits outlined.  But the program likely would not have achieved potential had leadership not been demonstrated by the instructor group in its geographic area.  The leaders in the group had the vision and sense of potential for the program and the wisdom to develop an effective means of communicating the program and following through on its implementation.

The SMP program continues in operation to this day—a true success story on many levels.  It represents true leadership well applied.