Rebuilding a University ROTC Cadet Corps and more

Rebuilding a University ROTC Cadet Corps and more

7th in a series by Tom Rozman

A major American northeastern state land grant university had seen a dramatic reversal in the program of its once popular cadet corps, a unit of the U. S. Army’s Reserve Officer Training Corps Program.  (These were colleges and universities established under the Morrill Act of 1863 during the American Civil War of 1861-65.  They were established to address a major national issue identified in form of insufficient and competent junior officers on mobilization resulting in, among other negative effects, unnecessarily high casualty lists and minimum levels of tactical and operational competency.  The land grant university legislation was a step forward in establishing a national ability to prepare sufficient competent trained military leadership in advance of any developing national emergency, a shortfall that had been prominently exposed by the then ongoing Civil War.)

—Michael Howard in his book “The Franco Prussian War” speaks well to this issue in his assessment of an in kind shortfall in the French Armies of National Defense during the Franco-Prussian War.

The university was being scrutinized by the Army for possible reduction in active Army resourcing.  Loss of funding or staff would only worsen the situation.

The cadet corps was one of the the first cadet corps established under the 1863 land Grant Law that required schools granted land by the federal government under the act to train their male students in arms as part of their education.  The school had a long and distinguished history with its cadet corps having produced a number of senior Army officers to include flag officers of standing and other notable alumni.  Between World War I and World War II it had trained horse cavalry officers, road marching the mounted cadet corps to a U. S. Army cavalry post 170 miles distant for summer training.

After World War II the school trained cadets to commission in the Army’s armor branch until the program became branch immaterial in the early 1960s.  Six M-41 tanks had been assigned to the corps of cadets to support on campus training during this period.

The program was in such standing socially in the community, a rural area of the state, that the annual military ball was one of the university’s social highlights during the school year.  This would change.

The corps reached a strength at one point of over 2,000 cadets. But, a recent war and extensive anti-war reaction to it that had spilled over to the campuses across the nation when draft deferments were suspended for students led to a change in climate.  The cadet corps had experienced a dramatic reduction in size and popularity to the point that by 1977 the Army corps of cadets had reduced to 68 cadets.  It had reached a strength level that the Army was having difficulty justifying the number of active Army cadre assigned to the instructor group, even though the university was a Land Grant Act School.

Significant in this development was one of the critical activities and measures of health of such programs–the annual participation of the cadet corps’ rising senior cadets in the 1st ROTC Advanced Camp.  This was an  almost two month program of cadet individual, collective and leadership tactical training and evaluation.  It was conducted each summer at a major active Army installation for advanced cadets preparing to enter their last year in the program before commissioning as 2nd lieutenants in the Army of the United States (some would enter the Regular Army or active army while some would serve in the Army Reserve or National Guard).

The region included all schools on the U. S. East Coast.  The university’s program had shrunk to the point that it was having great difficulty forwarding even 20 qualified cadets to the camp.  As well, the cadets being sent were not generally doing well and collectively were ranking at the bottom of the 98 then surviving schools that still had ROTC cadet corps by that time.  In fact, the school was coming in dead last.

Never mind the reduced numbers, conditioning and acclimatization alone were decimating the small contingent at camp.  The camp was conducted at a southern installation that by opening of the camp in June was a climate shock for cadets coming from a school some 800 miles further north.  The diagnostic physical training test administered on the first day at camp was a virtual catastrophe for the school’s cadets.

At this point an infantry captain was assigned to the instructor group.  He had just graduated from the Infantry Officer Advanced course preceded by a four year tour of duty in Germany where he had commanded a mechanized infantry platoon, served as the executive officer of a mechanized company, commanded a mechanized infantry company, served on the battalion staff and ultimately served as the battalion’s plans, training and  operations officer or S-3.  He was a U. S. Military Academy graduate and an Airborne Ranger officer.  Things began to change.

Soon, the instructor group officers were being integrated into a team where every member assumed critical roles to rebuild, outreach, recruit and train.  The entire program reorganized the cadet corps and restored the role of cadets in running their corps.  Training greatly increased despite the loss of almost all military weapons and equipment on campus.  One aspect of this increase were two three day weekend training immersions, to include tactical and weapons training, one each semester, at an active army installation 60 miles from the campus as well as other training opportunities such as the Naval Cold Weather Survival Course, Parachute School, and exchanges with the U.S. Military Academy.  Physical training became a daily activity for cadets in their year before advanced camp.

A key principle applied was that the cadet corps ran itself with advice from faculty tactical staff.  A critical innovation in this regard was the early return to campus for the fall semester of the new cadet chain of command for a comprehensive two day work shop using the previous year’s continuity files to map out the coming year’s program, in form of such products as operations orders for FTXs and other events.

Within two years the program was in much improved stead with the university’s academic affairs subcommittee, all instructor group officers meeting the minimum university instructor qualifications of masters degree or higher with approved instructor credentials.  Course materials had been reviewed and approved by that body. The military instruction and training system had been revolutionized.  And the cadet corps had grown to approaching 150 Army cadets (note that the Air Force operated a separate program on campus that was slightly larger at the time).   The morale of the cadets had improved greatly—they were showing increasing pride in their cadet corps.

One telling result of these improvements was Advanced Camp performance.  It had sky-rocketed with the cadets achieving a collective ranking of 28 out of 98 schools.   One measure alone told the story—on the diagnostic first day of camp physical fitness test, all cadets were passing it and a significant number were maxing the test (this result was due to leading by example by all instructor group cadre during campus physical training and aggressively pursuing funds and authority to build a by regulation physical training test facility on campus to administer the test to cadets several times during the year and allow individual practice on the events).   Military skills performance was increasingly improving into collective competitive range at the Advanced Camp.  It must be noted that Advanced Camp performance was a major determinant of a cadet’s viability for access at that time to a Regular Army commission or an active duty Reserve Army commission.

But more needed to be done to further cement and advance gains made to sustaining capability.  On a campus of some 25,000 students a larger cadet corps was appropriate, especially to increase northeastern officer presence in the active Army where that demographic was not overly well represented and to provide more college educated commissioned officers to all three Army of the United States components—the Regular Army, the Army Reserve and the Army National Guard.  And certainly, collective Advanced Camp performance could be further improved.

At this point a second airborne ranger infantry officer reported to the instructor group, having recently completed graduate school on the campus.  This officer coincidentally was a West Point classmate of the current instructor group curriculum, plans, training and operations officer.  Six months after joining the group, this officer would assume the curriculum, plans, operations, and training officer role.  This development took the program to the next level.

The cadet battalion was reorganized into a headquarters and four companies–A (Marksmanship Team and Drill Team), B (Field Craft), C (Orienteering) and D (Ranger).  Each company had a training program to plan and execute during the year to include an off campus field training exercise (FTX) in their mission area—one each semester.  The exercises were designed to supplement and enhance required training and some were course requirements (laboratories/practical exercises) for the cadet’s academic courses.  Field exercises, particularly, were open to all cadets regardless of company but a requirement for cadets assigned to the company.

Company A engaged in a series of off campus marksmanship and shooting events and drill events some being competitive.   Company B organized the cadet battalion’s participation in the Naval Cold Weather Survival Course drawing a contingent up to 10-12 cadets per semester for that exercise and one field exercise per semester that developed field craft skills.  Company C engaged in participation in local orienteering related events and conducted an orienteering FTX each semester the latter being mandatory for cadets in their pre-advanced camp preparation.  Company D planned and conducted three two-three day weekend FTXs, one each semester.  Though all exercises were “air assault” format simulating helicopters in the first two each semester using military vans thus optimizing in the ground tactical time, the capstone FTX each semester was a full air assault exercise with up to 8 aircraft per event.

Again, these Company D FTXs were air assault, force on force deployments to sites off campus—but the initial and end of exercise helicopter pick-up/landing zones (PZ/LZ) were on campus for the aircraft supported FTX’s.  The Ranger FTXs were mandatory for all cadets oriented on the Advanced Camp as part of their academic grade, and all members of Company D.  All cadets of the cadet battalion could also participate and were highly encouraged to do so and reserve units in the area were encouraged to participate.  Because these exercises became very populara fairly large number of student cadets signed up—and, there was “method in the madness.”  To sense what was involved in command and control of a tactical body of troops deployed, it was critical to build sizeable units that presented the level of magnitude the functions of leadership had to be performed to.

Almost from initiation, the Company D FTXs were as noted highly popular and drew some one hundred cadets typically organized into two platoons of 40 to 50 with cadre and senior cadets providing lane observer oversight.  Company D conducted a pre-exercise training program over several evenings on weapons, tactics, safety and other key subject areas before each exercise.  The initial and concluding exercise chain of command in each platoon was provided by Company D but once deployed a U. S. Army Ranger School format was applied where the patrol leader became a casualty and another ranger assumed leadership.  Again, the platoons were accompanied by the tactical officer and the tactical NCO and senior cadet leaders.  (The role of tactical staff will be discussed later).

As noted, each company’s program was a required participation for the cadets assigned to the company (assignment was voluntary and in some cases by assignment to balance company strength).  Cadet chain of command was responsible for all planning and execution and this duty was part of their military evaluation for commissioning (as will be mentioned, the option if the cadet desired to pay the tuition to expand the position into a practicum course for credit was also provided in this program enhancement).

To support and augment the cadet chain of command one each officer and NCO from the instructor group staff was assigned to each company as a tactical officer and tactical NCO.  The officers and NCOs so assigned were selected based on the best fit of experience and background to the assigned cadet unit.   They were to serve as a professional mentoring and counseling resource but most importantly as an exemplar to the cadets of officership and professionalism in the Army’s officer and NCO Corps.

Additionally, locally available training areas and equipment resources needed to be created, especially to counteract the pernicious effects caused by the withdrawal of large amounts of military equipment, particularly weapons and communications equipment.  To address these areas the emerging phase two of program regeneration and enhancement was initiated with a study of resourcing enhancement possibilities and analyzed the findings to determine workable strategies.

Regarding terrain for local training, it was determined that a sizeable contiguous tract of land that was owned and managed by a timber/lumber interest of some 100 square miles of rugged broken terrain within five miles of the university could be developed through a standing agreement with the owners into a local training area.  Reconnaissance confirmed that the area was ideal for the training desired.   Additionally, terrain available on a previously active air force base still operating as a reserve air force base a half hour by road to the south was developed as an additional local training area.

In the general area of the university at the time, the Army National Guard had one infantry brigade of three battalions organized in the area.  The Army Reserve had one separate brigade’s infantry battalion based in the area, and a Marine Corps Reserve infantry regiment had one infantry company in generally the same location as the Army Reserve Battalion—this represented four plus battalions of infantry equipment that might be accessed for select training.  As well, the active installation 6o miles distant was the Army Reserve support coordination office for the area. At the time, significant Army aviation assets were available through Army Reserve aviation units in the Area.

The instructor group promptly began memorandum of understanding  (MOU) initiatives and other necessary agreements to confirm and access the available local maneuver training area on private property and the equipment pools, aviation assets and other support assets such as tactical medic teams with ambulances for field training.  Within a month MOUs and other necessary agreements had been concluded with the land owner, Army Reserve, Adjutant General of the state’s National Guard, The Marine Corps as well as the Federal Aviation Administration to survey all intended PZ/LZ sites.

To further enhance academic opportunity for “in program and prospective cadets” a joint public policy concentration degree program was developed with the university’s business school that incorporated  all of the program’s academic offerings and a selection of practicums with course title and independent studies built on the cadet corps positions.  Additionally, to motivate cadets and  expand the leader training opportunities, the cadet chain-of-command would have a first semester “detail” and a second semester “detail” and an honorary “detail” appointed at graduation.

Over the following three years as these enhancements to program matured, interest in the program greatly increased drawing students from the other five campuses in the general area of the university. The cadet battalion increased to 250 cadets and was sending 32-36 cadets to the advanced camp each summer.  Due to policies at the time it was producing early commissioned lieutenants who were remaining on campus after commissioning for one or two additional semesters to complete degree requirements.  These lieutenants were incorporated into the initiatives to augment mentoring and tactical staff resources with the cadet battalion and administrative support in the instructor group.

Over three additional years the results were notable.  The cadet battalion increased to 250 cadets.  The program was sending well over 30 cadets to advanced camp each summer with the possibility of reaching 40 cadets within the next year.  This latter was thanks to the increasing popularity of the program with students, often despite less than warm faculty support which in some cases boiled over into open issue situations with some faculty like unhappiness with tactical aircraft on campus.   The collective advanced camp performance had risen each summer from 28 out of 98 schools to 12 of 110 schools and had not experienced a cadet who failed at camp. Over 140 lieutenants were commissioned over the rebuilding period.  As well campus anti-war sentiment though still present was lessening.

Anecdotally, from feedback over the years, the lieutenants who graduated from the program did very well with a number reaching senior rank in the Army, others enjoying successful Army careers then moving into successful civilian careers while others transitioned to successful Department of State and FBI careers.

The success achieved in this case in a hostile campus environment resulted from leaders developing a vision for the operation they found that exceeded what seemed possible. Then pursuing the vision with discipline, imagination and involved leadership and mentoring.  The concept engaged the entire instructor group “team” and made it a team that was fully engaged in the mission.

Consequently, the cadets reciprocated performing to increasingly higher levels as was demonstrated by their documented performance.  The initiatives took advantage of the synergy potential of the reserve component structure in the area,  as well as all possible regional resources like the nearby installations and programs, the naval Cold Weather Survival Course and U. S. Military Academy to name two.  Basically, from an almost unresourced operation, an extremely effective leader training program that produced large numbers of highly effective new leaders, given the resources invested, developed from applied visionary leadership and team building.
Previous article by Tom Rozman:

Supporting a National Guard Mechanized Infantry Company & more

Reorganizing a Mechanized Infantry Company

No Time for Platoon ARTEPS in a Mechanized Battalion

Tom Rozman: The Reward for Doing Well

Tom Rozman: Leadership Approaches That Get the Job Done

Tom Rozman: Reconstituting an Overseas Platoon on a Mission of High Sensitivity