While some students may know one of the 160 cadets who make up the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) at TCU, to others the program may seem like a covert operation. Every day, the university’s campus serves as a base for training students through practical skills labs, physical training and student led missions.
These students come from TCU and surrounding institutions such as Texas Wesleyan University, Columbia College and Tarrant County College. They are among the first to step foot on campus at 6 a.m. for physical training, all with a full schedule of classes to stay awake for throughout the day. For sophomore criminal justice major, Tyler Styles, the lost hours of sleep are a small price to pay for the broader mission.
“You hear it’s an army of one, but here you really get to see about 100 people coming together, doing the same thing – one voice working towards the same goal,” he said.
This sense of camaraderie, he said, is brought on by days spent waking up to exercise alongside one another, attending military science classes and putting that knowledge to use during labs.
“It’s work experience that you learn early on, normally you wouldn’t get that until after you graduate. It’s kind of like an internship,” Ashley DeLeon, a junior communication studies major, said.
DeLeon is part of the Air Force ROTC program, which differs from the Army ROTC program because it is completely run by cadets, she said.
Sean Nesburg, a senior computer engineering major at the University of Texas at Arlington, said his job as an operations group commander in the Air Force ROTC program involves planning training for fellow cadets and making sure orders are carried out and the mission’s objectives are met.
One mission Air Force cadets took on was the planning of a career day with active duty officers in order to educate students on how they are expected to lead. Lieutenant General Chris Bogdan, a US Program Executive Officer, encouraged students to pace themselves and develop their effective communication skills for duty.
The programs focus on intellectual strategy, DeLeon said. With shorter PT’s (physical trainings) than the Army’s program, some officers joke that the Air Force students are the less physically fit branch of ROTC. The level of commitment remains strong in both branches, she said, as peers often don’t understand why her AFROTC duties take top priority.
With strong commitment comes a strong sense of discipline, time management and leadership skills. These develop cadets to not only become strong soldiers, but also strong and healthy people, Desiree Ortiz, a senior nursing major, explained.
“When joining the military I thought it was a good means not only for women empowerment, but just an opportunity to see the world and be a leader and have adventure,” she said.
Ortiz serves as the Battalion Commander for TCU’s Army ROTC. Once a week she attends a staff meeting with other cadet leaders and staff known as “cadre.” During this time cadet leaders present their plans of action to the cadre and “deconflict” their strategies. These meetings cover everything from which group of cadets or “platoon” will be assisting at TCU football games to the program’s social media outreach.
Through five paragraph summaries known as “op orders,” everything from early morning physical training to drills for labs are planned out, Ruth Tusi, a senior sociology major, said. This structure is meant to adapt students to military life Lt. Col. Chris Talcott, professor of military science, said.
Talcott’s courses cover everything from how students can handle stress as first years to how to eventually take on leadership roles as juniors and seniors.
“The whole course is all application based because when they leave here they’re commissioned officers so they’re expected to do counseling, writing, speaking and stuff like that,” he said.
For some students in the program, the military culture is nothing new. Teresa Cenney, a first-year biology major, attended school at a military base in San Antonio before coming to TCU.
“The military runs really deep in my family, my grandfather was in World War II, my dad served for 28 years in the military and my sister did ROTC in college and she graduated two years ago. She actually just got back from Afghanistan,” she said.
It was challenging for Cenney to deal with the lack of understanding from professors when she wasn’t as alert as other students because of her adjustment to the early morning schedule.
Being an ROTC student comes with the added pressure of maintaining a solid GPA and ethical behavior, she said. This professional attitude is still encouraged, even when controversial politics like the recent government shutdown affect student’s resources, Captain Zach Grimes, associate professor of military science, said.
He explained that although student stipends and government vehicles were on hold during the shutdown, saying disrespectful things about the president and congress is looked at in the military as “bashing the boss.”
“It’s having a sense of understanding how students can discuss this appropriately and in a professional manner,” he said.
When asked why students were willing to take on the responsibilities that come with the camouflage coat, answers ranged from wanting funding for school, following in the footsteps of someone they admired and answering a call to serve.
The common thread in all responses, however, was that the uniform is not worn lightly.
“It’s not about wearing the uniform and looking cool, it’s about that higher purpose,” Styles said.
Editor’s note: This article was updated at 6:52 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 2.