The Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) can be the subject of many misconceptions among high school students. Whether your opinions have been influenced by television, guidance counselors or by watching the Junior ROTC group drilling in the high school courtyard at lunchtime, it is possible that the reality of being an ROTC cadet has been lost in translation.
Myth: ROTC equals enlisting
According to Maj. Pat Nugent, who has taught military science for the Army ROTC program at Carroll College in Helena, Mont., a common misconception is that joining ROTC means the student is enlisting in the military. Although participation in ROTC usually leads to military service, the program creates officers—not enlisted personnel
“In reality, an officer’s job or focus is significantly different than an enlisted soldier’s job,” Nugent says. “Officers manage, lead and direct at a higher level than an enlisted soldier or noncommissioned officer.”
Myth: You will be deployed as a student
Another misconception is that ROTC students are often deployed while they are still in college.
“While they are in ROTC, they are not deployable as a normal soldier,” Nugent says. “Also, some people think they are ‘in the Army’ and that they immediately have a commitment. Their commitment varies on their current status and really only comes into affect once they complete school and receive their commission.”
Myth: Members of the military love war
Retired Lt. Col. Chris Lucier is the assistant director of undergraduate admissions at the University of Michigan and a 21-year veteran of the U.S. Army. According to Lucier, some people might not consider ROTC because of their misperceptions about the military.
“Many still perceive the military as a haven for autocratic, war-mongering automatons,” he says. “The exact opposite is true. The military is comprised of leaders who are dedicated to their mission and their troops, and ROTC provides the foundation of leadership development that will be built upon once the student is commissioned as an officer.”
Myth: You won’t owe the military a thing
Other popular misconceptions concern the obligations cadets have while they are in and after they have completed an ROTC program.
According to Nugent, some students believe that, “ROTC only pays for college and there really is no obligation to the Army or the program.” In fact, participation in ROTC brings responsibility and commitments. “ROTC cadets...eventually swear an oath to support and defend the Constitution as all soldiers do. They will have tactical training and may be deployed to various posts/stations/countries,” Nugent says.
Myth: ROTC won’t change your college experience
You’ll be expected to plan your schedule around your ROTC commitments, not plan your ROTC involvement around your extracurriculars. With this in mind, you may be wondering how participating in ROTC will affect your experiences at college.
For some people, the extra responsibility may become a burden. But for others, Lucier says, the program has definite benefits.
“I heard one recent graduate say during his commissioning ceremony, ‘I learned more from my participation in ROTC than I did in any classroom.’ You’ll have opportunities to participate in things other college students just dream about, like rappelling off 100-foot buildings, jumping out of airplanes, visiting a foreign seaport or going through survival training,” he says.
Myth: ROTC means completely free money
Yes, there is money available for ROTC participants. Scholarships are available to pay for tuition, books and fees as well as a monthly stipend. But ROTC scholarships do not pay for room and board, according to the experts at Military.com. (Though some schools will, so ask!) Taking ROTC money, however, means following through with the award’s terms and accepting the responsibility of your commitment.