ROTC member

ROTC & You

As a teen, one who attended an all girls private school, I only heard the letters ROTC in passing. We had a neighbor whose son, around my age talked about possibly joining the program at his school. Enter the social media age in the 2000’s and the occasional friend posts photos of their child(ren) participating in ROTC drills or activities. Flash forward another handful of years, my son as a boy scout knows several older scouts participating in ROTC programs at their high schools yet I have still no clue what the program is or does other than to have an affiliation with our military services.


ROTC is an acronym for Reserve Officers’ Training Corps and its goal is to train young adults for a future in the branches of the U.S. Military. The Army, Air Force and Navy each have their own ROTC program offered at more than 1700 colleges and universities throughout the US. In exchange for a paid college tuition and a guaranteed post-college career, cadets commit to serve in the military after their college graduation.The Air Force also has a Jr. ROTC program offered at many public high schools throughout the country. 


The JROTC and ROTC programs share a point of origin: the National Defense Act of 1916. The passage of this legislation united military training resources under a single federal umbrella. This allowed high schools and colleges to obtain military training instructors and supply funding from a single ROTC organization. Title 10 Section 2031 of the U.S. Code describes how JROTC programs provide students with at least three years of military instruction, along with access to uniforms, academic materials, and instructors who have served as U.S. Armed Forces officers. According to numbers published by the U.S. Army, over 500,000 high school students serve as JROTC cadets across all the branches. 


Often, the strongest reason for students to enroll in a ROTC program is the benefit of paid college tuition, fees, books and other necessities of college life. While the offset of these costs is certainly helpful, it is important to remember that ROTC scholarships come with the commitment of mandatory active duty service after completion of a bachelor’s degree program. In addition to the financial benefits, enrollment in an ROTC program provides young adults the opportunity to develop technical and leadership skills, a structured path to a career after college, specialized professional training for military officer positions after college and long-term career guidance and continued professional education.


Even if a student has not participated in high school JR ROTC, they can still apply and participate at the beginning of their college career. At the collegiate level, each branch (minus the Coast Guard which has its own similar program) has its own specialized ROTC program. 


The types of training programs, service commitments and possible career specialities vary from branch to branch. The Army’s program, arguably the most popular among college students and offered at over 1000 colleges and universities, cadets receive training in army leadership, military tactics, principles of war and combat survival training. Cadets commit to serve for three to eight years, depending on scholarship level. Among the many career paths within the Army cadets pursue futures within the infantry, military intelligence, civil affairs and the medical corps. The Air Force’s program is nearly as popular and offered at just as many colleges and universities across the country. Participants train and study laws of armed conflict, international security, aerospace studies and field training among other studies and areas of concentration. Individuals serve between four and ten years depending on contract cadet appointment. Cadets can pursue a future in air battle management, aircraft maintenance, cyberspace operations, piloting and tactical air control. The US Navy and the Marine Corps share one program for both branches offered at over 150 institutes of higher learning across the country. Cadets participate in summer cruise training, surface warfare orientation, flight time on navy aircraft, and maritime self-defense programs. Cadets commit to serve between 3-12 years of active military service, depending on scholarship acceptance and degree level. After completion of the program cadets can pursue futures in submarine, explosive ordnance disposal, US Marine Corps, Navy Nursing Corps among other careers within both branches. 

Many young adults considering a path in the armed forces choose to participate in Junior ROTC programs at their local high school. Students may be eligible to enroll as early as the 9th grade. Each branch of the military has their own program for this age group and are available throughout both public and private high schools as well as alternative learning centers throughout the country. Citizenship, leadership, character and community service are the core tenets of high school Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps programs, or JROTC. Those values are at the heart of the JROTC Cadet Creed that emphasizes working to better the cadet’s family, school and country. The primary goal of the Junior ROTC program is good citizenship. Students who participate in JROTC are not required to join the military after high school and the program is not a military preparation class. JROTC programs are taught by retired service members. Course work includes military history and customs – which is typically branch-specific – and students are required to wear a uniform that mirrors what military personnel wear in their respective branches. Students typically only need to wear their full uniform once per week throughout the entire school year and part of their grade is dependent on their compliance with the uniform policy. Full uniforms must always be worn for JROTC events outside of the classroom. Among other activities students often take part in physical fitness training and drill instruction. 


Joining the ROTC or JROTC can be a fulfilling experience for many young adults about to embark on their futures. It is important to keep in mind, at the college level, that active duty service is mandatory as part of the program. That choice may not be right for everyone. For those who have the dedication and drive to embark on this journey it is the unique chance to have a head start in their career with the military. ROTC cadets (students in training) cannot be called for service until they graduate and finish the program, so there are no interruptions while in school for an undergraduate or bachelor’s degree. There are many opportunities for postgraduate education and scholarships for ROTC graduates after fulfilling active duty, so the program can also prepare cadets for a life and career after their service.