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Army ROTC students are filling classrooms

Burgeoning ranks of Army ROTC students are filling college classrooms around the nation this fall as the Army seeks to beef up its officer corps with a generous scholarship program.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Burgeoning ranks of Army ROTC students are filling college classrooms around the nation this fall as the Army seeks to beef up its officer corps with its generous scholarship program that pays the college tuition of students who are commissioned as 2nd lieutenants when they graduate.

At the hillside campus of Norwich University, the nation's oldest private military college, more than three times as many Army ROTC students are enrolled this year over last. Most of the nation's 273 colleges and universities with ROTC programs report similar increases as the Army grows its officer corps.

"The Army is a growth industry," said Col. Stephen Carney, head of the ROTC detachment at Norwich. "You would think OK, it's enlisted soldiers and (noncommissioned officers) that really make the Army run, but we need officers, too."

U.S. Army Cadet Command, which provides most of the Army's second lieutenants through ROTC, is being asked to produce more 2nd lieutenants, said spokesman Paul Kotakis. In 2001 the requirement was 3,900 new officers. In 2006 the number went up to 4,500. Next spring the number will be 5,100 and by 2011 5,350.

Thousands of scholarships
The increase in the past decade has been more than sevenfold: In the 1999-2000 school year the Army offered 430 ROTC scholarships. Last year the figure was 3,179. It's all part of the accelerated expansion of the Army approved in 2007, according to the U.S. Army Manpower and Reserve Affairs office in Washington.

The Army is short about 3,000 majors and captains, said Col. Paul Aswell, chief of the Army's Officer Division, the officers needed to staff the Army's brigade combat teams. Producing them can take years.

"You want officers (who) are experienced, (who) understand what they're doing professionally," Aswell said. "There's no way to produce them except by bringing them in as lieutenants."

The total of 87 ROTC students who enrolled at Norwich last month was up 60 over the number who enrolled in the military arm of the Northfield college in 2008.

At Texas A&M, the largest of the nation's six senior military colleges, Army ROTC scholarships jumped from 35 in the class that entered two years ago to 115 last year, although the figure is expected to be about 70 this year, said retired Col. Jake Betty, the chief of staff in the office of the commandant in College Station, Texas.

North Georgia State College and University, another of the senior military colleges, awarded 61 scholarships this year, up from about a dozen five years ago, said spokesman Kate Maine.

Not just typical military colleges
And it's not just at typical military colleges. Ivy League Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., had five ROTC scholarship students last year, said spokeswoman Latarsha Gatlin. This year there are nine. While they study at Dartmouth, the ROTC students get their military educations by working with the Norwich program, about 55 miles to the north.

In addition to the ROTC increases, more officers are coming out of the Army's Officer Candidate School and from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Aswell said.

The Air Force ROTC program has been steady for the past few years, producing about 1,850 to 1,900 second lieutenants a year, said Air Force Col. John Emich, the registrar for Air Force ROTC at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama.

The Marine Corps, which gets some officers through the Naval ROTC program, is growing, but the numbers are a fraction of the Army's numbers. Nationally, in the class of 2009, there were about 275 second lieutenants commissioned through NROTC, said NROTC director Jill Stein. In 2010 the number will be about 300 and in 2011 about 380, where current plans call for the numbers to stay, Stein said.

The Navy has commissioned about 740 ensigns this year through NROTC. Next year the number will be about 680, but it is then supposed to jump to about 800 a year, Stein said.

Government scholarships are a big draw
ROTC scholarships traditionally attract high school students who want to follow in family footsteps or serve their country during a time of war, officials at Norwich say. But in a time of economic uncertainty, the government scholarships are a big draw.

"The economy potentially has had an impact on that," said Betty. "There may have been funds available for those scholarships the last couple years, but because the economy was better some of these kids didn't take those scholarships."

Despite the strains of multiple deployments from fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, officers aren't getting out of the Army in large numbers.

"You would think that would generate attrition, but in fact, our retention is better than it has been over the last 10 years," Aswell said. He said the poor economy and a variety of incentive programs are keeping officers in the Army.

The Army's structure is changing, Aswell said, and it needs more officers for its changing brigade combat teams.

"Before, a brigade staff might have two or maybe three majors in it, now it's not unusual to have seven eight or nine," Aswell said. Previously a brigade might have had eight or 10 captains. "Now there might be 15 or 20."

Enduring introductions to military life
At Norwich this fall there are a total of 121 ROTC scholarship students among the 522 freshmen students joining the Corps of Cadets, the school's military arm. Most of the scholarships are from the Army, but there have been smaller increases in the ROTC programs for the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps, the school said.

For Norwich's new ROTC students filling the class of 2013, the big-picture needs of the Army are a long way off. Instead, they're enduring their introductions to military life.

The new rooks are learning to march, read or recite school policies and doctrines or, under certain circumstances, do push-ups or other physical activities, in addition to learning military basics. Sleep can be a prized commodity.

But they're ready.

"Ever since I was a little kid, I've wanted to be in the Army," said Robert Newsome, 18, and ROTC scholar from Winston-Salem, N.C., who arrived at Norwich last month. He's the latest in a long line of relatives who served in the military, including his mother, uncle and grandfather.

"I want to serve my country and protect it," Newsome said. "I wouldn't want someone else protecting me, if I wouldn't feel like protecting it myself."