The Johns Hopkins Gazette: October 15, 2001
October 15, 2001
VOL. 31, NO. 7


Soldiering On

It's 'business as usual' for ROTC cadets ... but, in reality, it's not

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

Johns Hopkins Gazette Online Edition

It is a crisp, early Wednesday evening on the west side of campus. On Homewood Field, the final whistle blows on a men's soccer match. Fans stand up and cheer, then amble down to the field to congratulate a Blue Jays team that has just won its eighth straight game. The hum of casual conversation and nearby traffic fills the air as the dispersing crowd grows into a sea of smiles and hugs.

Some 50 yards to the north, inside a utilitarian, gray-painted building, a whole other scene is taking place.

The facility's large, wood-floored hall, quiet and empty moments before, now begins to fill with the stomping boots and clatter of more than 40 uniformed cadets, who are quickly ordered into formation. As they line up eight wide and six deep, the shuffling of feet echoes slightly before perfect quiet descends. There they stand for several minutes, motionless and stern-faced, while four uniformed officers inspect the ranks. The cadets are waiting to be adjourned for the day; the officers are holding off until they like what they see. The stalemate ends with the word "Dismissed."

Of the 83 students participating in the Hopkins Army ROTC program, some 50 cadets are enrolled in the Leadership Lab, which prepares them to be commissioned officers. Here, they stand in formation for inspection.

This exercise in discipline is part of a weekly routine for the students enrolled in the university's Army ROTC program, which includes students from UMBC; the University of Maryland, College Park; Villa Julie College; the University of Baltimore; and Towson University.

Despite the events of Sept. 11 and the onset of the war on terrorism, it has been "business as usual" here for the 83 students, according to Lt. Col. Charles Roller, director of Hopkins' Army ROTC. Well, as usual as it can be for cadets who now have to confront the all-too-real prospect of seeing combat duty upon graduation.

Andrew Woodward, a sophomore who has signed on for a four-year commitment with the Army, says that for him, the prospect of combat duty was there from the moment he signed. While war might be more on his mind now, Woodward says he is not second-guessing his decision to join the military.

Lt. Col. Charles Roller, director of Hopkins' Army ROTC

"If you are willing to sign that contract, you should be able to trust whatever the commander-in-chief--the person whom the people of the United States elect--tells you to do," Woodward says. "You trust him to put you in danger only when the U.S. needs it."

Roller, who has been at Hopkins since 1998, says he recently addressed all the cadets on the current military action in Afghanistan, asking them if they were concerned.

"It is like it hasn't really hit home for most of them," Roller says. "It doesn't really look like they are scared or worried. In reality, the world isn't all that different. We always knew that we lived under a threat, under a cloud. And the cloud has just sprouted some rain. But we always knew it was there. We always knew we had to be careful."

Glen Mackey, an ROTC cadet and a junior majoring in Near Eastern studies, says that wearing a uniform as he does on Wednesdays--either a battle dress uniform or the Army greens--has not been the same since Sept. 11.

"People look at us differently on campus," Mackey says. "I think a lot of them think you are getting ready to get shipped overseas. Especially last week, when we had a lot of field equipment on."

David McGovern, a freshman who joined ROTC just prior to the terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon, said there is an extra level of pride wearing a military uniform now, especially when walking on campus.

"I think they certainly give us more respect," McGovern says. "For example, when we walk through a crowd, the crowd parts for us."

Founded in 1916, the ROTC program at Hopkins was among the first of its kind to be established by Congress. More than 3,000 Hopkins students have received Army officer commissions through the program, with about 10 attaining the rank of general.

Mackey says that since Sept. 11 all classes and training exercises have been held on schedule; no more, no less.

Every ROTC cadet is required to practice basic military soldiering skills, which include rappelling down a three-story tower, target shooting with M16 rifles and running through obstacle courses. The remainder of a cadet's time is spent in classes, learning about such topics as leadership, tactical theory, military history and topographical map reading.

"There isn't anything that really has changed for us," Mackey says. "I guess you can become a bit of target being in uniform. But there is no threat of us suddenly being whisked off to the Middle East, so there isn't really a big change around here. They are keeping us on the same training, trying to keep everything to standard."

Roller says the cadets are first and foremost students, and are treated as such.

"They are here to go to school," Roller says, "and the end product we want is a college graduate. Until they do that, we can't commission them in the Army. So our main focus here is to get them through the program."

For cadets who want to be commissioned officers, each semester they are required to enroll in what is called Leadership Lab, a two-hour course that teaches the fundamental skills of being a leader.

Roller says the seniors basically run the lab, although all ROTC activities are supervised by the "cadre," a group of nine active and retired Army personnel who also instruct the classes. The seniors are responsible for organizing training exercises, planning events and making sure the other cadets are practicing proper military protocol. If a freshman cadet is marching wrong-foot-first, for example, the seniors point out the mistake and correct it. Underclassmen also must salute their senior officers.

Erin Sadownik, a senior, says that as the cadet recruitment officer, she enjoys the respect given to her by fellow cadets, and after Sept. 11 by classmates as well.

"I've always kind of gotten stares throughout the four years I have been here, but I think the stares are for different reasons now--like a 'Thank God you're there now,'" Sadownik says, "whereas otherwise it might have been, 'Why are you even thinking about going into the Army?' "

By their junior year, all ROTC cadets must sign contracts with the Army for two- to eight-year stints, which can be served directly after graduation or deferred for graduate school. Sadownik is signed up for eight years, four active and four nonactive reserve.

Sadownik says that while several friends have expressed concern about her upcoming military career, most have been supportive. Her parents, Sadownik says, have had a delayed reaction.

"My mom, especially, is getting a little worried," Sadownik says. "Last Friday when I went home, the first question I got was, 'So, what's with you and the military again?' "

Sadownik told her mother that in all likelihood she would not be sent immediately into a combat zone but that it was a possibility.

"Then she goes, 'But I don't want you to go to Afghanistan," Sadownik says, smiling. "I was like, 'OK Mom, you can call the Army and ask them not to send me there.'"

Knowing what could lie ahead, Sadownik says she and the other cadet officers have taken a sensitive approach to planning ROTC activities by not adding extra combat drills, lectures on terrorism or the like.

"We are trying to keep it as normal as possible [for the cadets]. They know they have a big burden on them come graduation time," Sadownik says. "I heard this conflict could go on for years and years, so even some of the freshmen can expect to be part of what is going on right now. I was hoping they would say it would be over and done with in December, but it's probably not. It's best not to think about it and concentrate on what we all need to do now, which is study."

Students can enroll in ROTC throughout the year. Since Sept. 11, eight students have joined the program, while only one participant has opted not to continue. The number of new recruits is likely to climb even higher, Roller says, as 10 more students have become what he refers to as "prospects."

Roller attributes the increased enlistment partly to the surge of patriotism but mostly to the program's growing positive reputation.

"We gain a lot of students by peer recruiting. And I think that probably says the most about a program, when the people in the program are satisfied with it enough and proud enough about it that they will go out and bring their friends in," Roller says.

Roller describes all the cadets at Hopkins as being sophisticated and professional--attributes, he says, they have displayed in abundance throughout the past few weeks.

"One thing we stress in the ROTC is living by the Army values," Roller says. "And the Army values spell leadership LDRSHIP: loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage. Those are the things we hope at the end of four years, maybe sooner, that they will all display."