Crisply-cut uniforms, forty-pound rucks, crew cuts/low buns tucked under hats—all are the tell-tale signs of ROTC students at Boston College, a group notable for their early bird workouts, dedication to academics, and overall honorable character.
Most people can spot ROTC students marching around campus in their uniforms or have noticed them doing drills on Stokes lawn. However, the inner workings of ROTC remain a bit of a mystery to the majority of the BC population. Where do they train? When do they sleep? And most importantly, what on earth is a ruck?
The Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) emerged from the need to train students for the Armed Services during World War I. After the war, BC officially instituted a voluntary ROTC unit in 1919. They later re-established a cross-enrollment program with Northeastern University in 1984. The Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps (NROTC) Unit Boston Consortium was established in 1983 and includes Boston University, MIT, Harvard, and Tufts.
According to its mission statement, ROTC seeks “to recruit, retain, develop, and commission the future junior officer leadership of the United States Army.” The program aims to cultivate leadership through academic and management skills training.
Army ROTC and Naval ROTC are two very distinct branches. Army ROTC does most of their training, if not all, at BC. Leadership labs, which require cadets to gather to learn infantry tactical movements and skills, take place once a week. The call of the reveille at 5:45 a.m signals the start of first formation on Stokes lawn. Cadets start their day together, then break up into squads of about ten people to train and perform drills.
Cadets physically train an average of three times a week, depending on each individual’s grade and schedule. Physical training (PT) is a rigorous workout and incorporates a lot of body weight exercises such as push-ups, sit-ups, and sprints. Combat PT, on the other hand, can involve running around the Chestnut Hill Reservoir clad in gear and a helmet whilst carrying a ruck (a 40-pound backpack filled with equipment). Sometimes cadets have to carry sandbags, full water jugs, or even one of their fellow cadets to mimic a casualty scenario.
Like in any other club or sport, members of ROTC work to strengthen each other. “My favorite thing about ROTC is working with others to improve myself, while training to eventually be an army officer,” said Matt Gruszka, MCAS ’19.
A typical ROTC schedule may look like the following:
5:00 a.m: Rise and shine, it’s training time!
5:45 a.m: Leadership lab out on Stokes Lawn (no, they are not playing capture the flag)
7:30 a.m: Lab ends—cadet breakfast and bonding before the morning dining hall rush
8:00 a.m: Classes and school activities (varying per cadet)
4:30 p.m: Military Science class once a week
6:00 p.m: Classes end but the grind doesn’t stop—voluntary ROTC activities, squad leadership responsibilities, homework, part-time jobs, and keeping in physical shape are all part of the routine for many ROTC students
12:00 a.m: Attempt to get some shut-eye before meeting the bright, beautiful dawn at 5:00 a.m
It’s a wonder how any ROTC students get enough sleep with such an intensely packed schedule. The delicate balance between academics and ROTC work leaves cadets and midshipmen with merely four to five hours of nightly sleep. Naturally, they learn to manage their time efficiently because there is not much of it to waste. Discipline and time management are key assets to performing well academically and militarily.
NROTC can lead to careers in the fields of aviation, submarines, and surface warfare. Students who are enrolled in NROTC train off-campus at Boston University. There are about twenty NROTC students at BC and around 100 to 120 students combined within all the schools in the Boston Consortium.
Midshipmen commute to BU three times a week on average for both physical training and academic classes. One mandatory class is Naval Science, which focuses on leadership, management skills, and military ethics. They also partake in leadership labs (which vary from Army ROTC labs).
Once midshipmen graduate, they are deployed and serve a minimum of five years. Over the summer, ROTC students (whether Army or Navy) dedicate time to learning tactical skills at a training site.
Savannah Clarke, MCAS ’19 and an NROTC student, had the opportunity to fly a plane this past summer that was three times the force of gravity. She is personally interested in the humanitarian aid work involved in the Navy.
“When I graduate I know that I will be on the forefront, representing my country and making good tangible difference in the world,” she says.
The strong camaraderie within the ROTC community helps foster a tight-knit support system. It is without a doubt exhausting to balance the various duties and obligations of an ROTC student. However, the mutual respect and loyalty among cadets and midshipmen alike create a team-oriented atmosphere.
“I love the people in ROTC because they give their unconditional support everyday,” expressed Christina Cistulli, MCAS ’19.
This distinct bond is matched by a fierce competitiveness to achieve certain qualifications. Every facet of ROTC is earned, whether it be a high rank, an award, or respect. With that said, the willingness of each student to assist and encourage his or her peers shapes the team as a whole.
The high standards of ROTC are demanding, but the dedication of cadets and midshipmen to excel is unparalleled. Like any ambition, a commitment to ROTC requires time and effort to reach leadership excellence. Students turn into strong mentors and leaders, but more importantly, they are developed into people of honorable character.