School Ties: ROTC is Back — and Open to All

By Cathy Rainone

INSPIRED BY HER FATHER AND GRANDFATHER, who both served in the military in Taiwan, Baruch College freshman Rose Lee made up her mind in the second grade to become an officer in the U.S. Army.

Rose Lee, front-right, at York College's ROTC

Rose Lee, front-right, at York College’s ROTC


So she was thrilled when last fall York College started offering the Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps — a college-based, four-year program to prepare commissioned officers to serve in the U.S. armed forces. The program at York is open to all students no matter which University college they attend.

Students who finish the program are committed to join the Army after graduation, entering the service as second lieutenants, the same rank as graduates of elite military schools such as West Point, according to Lt. Col. Juan Howie, director of the Army ROTC at CUNY.

“The Army is committed to filling the field-grade rank lieutenant colonel and above with the kind of officers that reflect our diverse population,” says Howie. “We want to offer New York City residents the same opportunities that are being afforded to suburban students.”

Students can also join ROTC at Medgar Evers College, while City College and the College of Staten Island plan to offer the program in the future.
“I want to be someone who can lead many people and serve all,” says Lee, 18. “I’m looking forward to becoming a military intelligence officer. New opportunities are opening up to women in the military and I’d definitely want to work my way up to chief of staff, so I could be challenged physically and mentally.”

Lee, from Great Neck, L.I., doesn’t mind taking business management courses at Baruch then heading to York to complete the program’s 24-credit military science track. The program, which includes leadership, map-reading and problem-solving training, fits right into her schedule, she says. There’s also a grueling physical-fitness program. To get commissioned as second lieutenants, for instance, cadets have to pass combat water-survival training, which is a simulation of a helicopter crashing into the water with soldiers on board. Soldiers have to swim to the surface despite being weighed down by gear.

“It’s a great program and everything you learn in the classroom from day one is applicable to life,” says Lee. “The program at York is small; we’re small in size but we’re large in heart and all are my buddies — I’d gladly go to battle with them.”

York is the first CUNY college to offer ROTC after a 40-year hiatus. Harvard and Columbia also welcomed ROTC back to their campuses recently after it had been banned years ago in protest of the Vietnam War.

“If the Army is going to come here and recruit our students as soldiers, let them recruit students as officers,” says York College’s Associate Dean William Dinello, who was instrumental in reintroducing ROTC at the University. “Why not give our students the opportunity to enlist in the Army and have leadership skills, go in as officers and have a clear career path. Let students try the ROTC for two years and see if they even like it.”
The idea to bring the program back was first raised by former Secretary of State and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell back in 2003.

Powell graduated from CCNY at the top of his ROTC class in 1958, with the rank of cadet colonel. He was dismayed to learn that ROTC no longer existed at CUNY. Dinello says Powell lobbied officials at the University to reinstate it.

At York, there are 10 students, including two women in the program. For the first two years, there’s no commitment to the Army. The military science
classes provide general leadership training, which appeals to business and health professions, says Dinello. By the third year, the Army asks students to join or opt out of the program.

“Sometimes students are just interested in the Army because they have a certain perception about it and they want to figure out if it’s true,” says Howie. “Others want to gain the leadership skills that will help them in the private sector or in the academia.”