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Training to Serve

MIT’s ROTC cadets may play active role in U.S. war with Iraq

By Michelle Povinelli

STAFF writer

Unlike other graduating seniors, Boris A. Bosch ’03 doesn’t have to fill out any job applications. Nor does he have to write a resume. As a Navy ROTC cadet, he has a guaranteed job. In the spring, he will find out whether he can get his top choice: a surface warfare post in Japan.

In the event of U.S. military action in Iraq, Bosch is one of the MIT students who are likely to be involved. “Iraq is such a hot spot, you kind of end up there sooner or later, no matter where you’re assigned,” he said. “My mom is scared to death.”

For him, though, it is all part of the job. “You know you’ve been trained well to do what you do,” Bosch said. “If everyone else is trained well, too, your personal safety isn’t really at risk.”

There are roughly 180 students in the Army, Navy, and Air Force ROTC programs at MIT, which also include students from Tufts and Harvard. Of these, about 35 will graduate this year. During their time at MIT, students in ROTC do coursework in military science and participate in leadership and professional training activities, in addition to their usual course loads. In return for scholarship assistance, they commit to serving a minimum of four years in the military after graduation, depending on their specialty.

Commissioned to duty

After graduating from MIT, cadets are commissioned into the armed forces. The type of job they are assigned depends on the branch of the military they are in. Air Force cadets for the most part enter engineering jobs in the US, working in areas like research and development or acquisitions.

In contrast, about 95 percent of Navy ROTC students go into warfare positions. “We produce officers to go out and drive ships and to fly airplanes into combat,” said Navy Lieutenant Kelly Baker, instructor in naval science.

Army cadets tend to go into active duty in combat branches as well, although the engineering branch of the Army is also popular with MIT students.

Army cadets can also choose to serve in the reserves or National Guard. After graduating from MIT, Cadet Aneal Krishnan ’02 will be going to New York to work as an investment banker at Goldman Sachs. At the same time, he will be a platoon leader in the New York National Guard. In event of military action in Iraq, units like his could be called up to active duty. Part of his job will be to help “maintain a base level of combat readiness in case mobilization happens,” he said.

Political awareness instilled in cadets

After they are commissioned, ROTC cadets will be operating within a strict structure of military command. However, this does not prevent them from developing their own views on current political issues. “We give [our cadets] general public affairs guidelines,” said Captain Alan Wiernicki, Army ROTC training officer. “But we stop short of telling them what to say.”

According to Bosch, developing political awareness is an important part of his training as a naval officer. “It’s important to understand what’s going on, because you are definitely part of the news -- you are the instrument by which America exerts its will,” he said. In his Navy ROTC lab, cadets presented current events updates and discussed the pros and cons of specific issues, in particular the situation in Iraq.

Krishnan says that although he often wears his uniform on campus, other students rarely ask him about his views. “When I’m on the T,” he added, “I get people asking me questions.”

Life as an MIT student and ROTC cadet

Like other Air Force ROTC students, Melanie S. Woo ’03 has to get up early on Monday mornings -- leadership laboratory begins at 6:30 a.m. Aside from the early mornings, she says that one of the hardest parts of being a cadet is “balancing the time you spend in ROTC with your other coursework.” On this particular day, she is teaching younger cadets how to bring in the American flag during the Color Guard ceremony. Other senior cadets are instructing groups in rifle- and flag-handling procedures. A group of new cadets, not yet in uniform, are learning the basics of marching.

These activities are “largely to train discipline and concentration,” said Captain David Henry, commandant of cadets in the Air Force ROTC program.

Aside from occasional marching, the leadership labs, which are part of all three ROTC programs, include professional development training, military training, and athletics. Students must also complete coursework in military science. Navy ROTC students, for example, take one course in Naval Science per semester, including NS.201, Naval Weapons Systems, and NS.402, Leadership and Ethics.

“It really cuts into your sleep schedule,” Bosch said of his 7:30 a.m. classes. “You have to be just that much more on top of things.”

Field training is also important. Army ROTC cadets, for example, attend one weekend-long exercise per semester, where they “run an obstacle course, live in barracks, and do different leadership activities,” according to Wiernicki. They also train at the rifle range and learn field infantry tactics.

Reasons students join ROTC

“I’ve wanted to be in the military ever since I was young,” Woo said. “I originally wanted to fly for the Air Force, but didn’t make the height requirement. So I decided to be an [Air Force] engineer instead.”

Bosch comes from a family with an long history of military service. “I probably wouldn’t have been able to come to MIT without the scholarship,” he said. “And on top of that, I want to do it for my country.”

ROTC scholarships vary somewhat from program to program. Most Navy cadets are on full scholarship, while some Army cadets receive tuition only. Some cadets receive cost of living stipends, ranging from $250-$400 per month. While the financial incentive is important, Woo feels that its importance should not be overestimated. “I think that serving your country is on the top of everyone’s list here,” she said.

ROTC teaches lessons for life

“The Army’s focus is on leadership,” said Colonel Brian Baker, Battalion Commander for the Army ROTC program. “We look to train the best leaders in the world.” He likes to point out that MIT President Emeritus Paul E. Gray ’54 and Harvard President Neil L. Rudenstine both got their initial leadership training in ROTC.

When this year’s graduating cadets get to their new posts, some will find themselves with up to 35 people under their command. Cadets agree that preparing for this type of leadership role is something that happens in ROTC -- not in most other MIT classes. “How to talk to your people, how to inspire them -- that’s important,” Bosch said. For now, his job prospects are secure. But if, like the rest of this year’s graduating class, he ever finds himself on the job market, he hopes the skills learned in ROTC will help to set him apart from the competition.