Early last month, the Army announced that by 2015, it’ll cut 13 ROTC programs across the country. The majority of those on the chopping block are in the South. That’s no coincidence. The Army cited ‘shifting demographics’ as the impetus behind the closures. It came as a shock to many schools.
At the University of North Alabama, for example, the entire ROTC building was renovated just this summer.
“They came in and repainted, redid the floors, and put in new windows, as well as new software and computers here,” says Jose Atencio, who teaches military science here at the university.
Atencio says the news sent shock waves through the cadets in the ROTC program.
“The university’s been very supportive of ROTC, and this came completely out of the blue,” North Alabama president William Cale says. “We had no inkling, no warning, no opportunity to respond to whatever concerns the Army had about the program.”
The concerns? That the program isn’t graduating enough commissioned officers. The ROTC program started here in 1948. But the small university, with a total enrollment of about 7,000, struggled to produce more than a handful of lieutenants each year. The Army’s not happy with those numbers.
“The university put its own scholarship money into the program, we renovated the facility, built a $50,000 rappelling tower, and did everything we could do to make the ROTC program viable,” says Cale.
An Army spokesman says the new plan is to focus on “underrepresented parts of the country,” places like New York City, Chicago, Texas and New Mexico.
Doug Lederman, editor at Inside Higher Ed, says for the schools losing their ROTC programs, the ripple effect can be huge.
“It’s likely to have real impact on student choice, on where students feel like they can go to school and get some of their education paid for,” Lederman says.
Cadets in their junior and senior year will be allowed to finish out the program. But freshmen and sophomore cadets, like the ones in Jose Atencio’s class at the University of North Alabama, are scrambling to come up with a backup plan.
Sophomore Alyssa Primeau says her dad and his six brothers all served in the military. She chose this program because it was close to her family, and she got a scholarship.
“I had cancer when I was younger, and so I had to get a medical waiver to be here,” she says.
She decided to switch schools to stay in an ROTC program. But all sorts of questions flooded her mind:
Would she have to reapply for another medical waiver? Could she keep her scholarship?
“I was worried that, you know, would I have to go through more paperwork? Would I have to do more stuff for that?” she asks.
The Army says it’ll honor scholarships at other schools. Next year, Primeau will transfer to the University of Alabama, about two-and-a-half hours away.
Jose Atencio says there will be a huge hole in this little town where military service is passed on from generation to generation. He quotes a colleague of his.
“You can love the Army all you want, but it’s not necessarily going to love you back,” he says. “It is a business and I understand that. But there’s more to closing an ROTC when you talk about community.”
The community hopes to fight back by urging lawmakers to reverse the Army’s decision.
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