HYRUM — Normally M16 rifles don’t float and life rafts are not intentionally capsized, but when the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps is at Hyrum Dam, what they do is anything but normal. The Utah State University ROTC completed training earlier this month that would prepare them for amphibious assaults and future leadership roles.
“We are just doing an introduction to zodiacs, they’re like awesome life rafts,” biological engineering major Robert Carpenter said. “So it’s, ‘This is how you row a zodiac, this is how you sit in it,’ and we paddle out into Hyrum and do a capsize drill. If your boat gets tipped over, you have to do a count-off drill, then flip the boat back over and climb back in. Then we have a little fun with it and do some boat races, and we teach them how to create a floatation device out of ponchos where you could put your weapon, like your M16, inside your poncho, tie it up and let it float.”
ROTC is a four-year, non-degree program for those interested in leadership skills. However, it is not necessary for students in their freshmen or sophomore year to commit to serving in the military. Bryce Bigham, a junior in mechanical and aerospace engineering, just wanted to try out ROTC at first, but is now a junior in the program and plans on serving in the Air Force as an officer after graduation.
“My mom wasn’t super pro-ROTC or military,” Bigham said, “So I told her, “Look it’s two years non-committal, and if I decide I don’t like it, if it’s not for me, I can just walk away.’”
For students interested in becoming a leader in the military through the ROTC, contracts or scholarships are provided while they are enrolled at USU. Joshua Cruzan, a senior in Asian studies, became involved in the ROTC after he served active duty for the Air Force and was offered a scholarship through the ROTC.
“I was an air traffic controller, that was my full-time job,” Cruzan said. “You can do college on the side, but in the ROTC you are a student first. So, the leadership of the cadets, you know they are students too, they realize that you have to get good grades otherwise you don’t get degrees and if you don’t get degrees, you don’t get a commission.”
ROTC, split up into Air Force and Military categories, lists cadets in military science or air science as MS1 or AS100 for freshmen, MS2 or AS200 for sophomores, MS3 or AS300 for juniors, and MS4 or AS400 for seniors. Those with prior military experience such as Cruzan can enter the ROTC as a MS2 or AS200. This is because more responsibilities are given to those who are further in the ROTC program, or those who have more experience.
“Officers don’t take such a proactive role in training,” Carpenter said. “They sit back, organize and supervise. The MS4s are learning, ‘All right, this lab we are going down to Hyrum Dam, we are going to have zodiac boats — what do I need for that? We need life jackets, life rafts, paddles and ponchos. I need tape, I need all these things.’ You have to go about acquiring those, learning how to plan it and how you want it to go.”
For those who are in the junior or senior year of the ROTC program, extracurricular leadership opportunities are also available. However, these opportunities are only available for students who have shown excellence in academics, field training and personal fitness. Sam VonNiederhausern, a senior in electrical engineering, had such an opportunity when he spent the summer in Alabama as a hand-to-hand combat instructor. But he said he had to work his way up to for such an opportunity.
“At the beginning of my time at the ROTC, my job was the water boy, basically,” VonNiederhausern said. “Now that I’m at the end of it, and one of my jobs is vice wing commander. You get to see the spectrum of an organization.”
Cadet commander and biochemistry senior Cole Finan said that the ROTC also contributes time to serve the community through the Student Nutrition Access Center. Created approximately four years ago, the SNAC pantry gives food to USU students in need. The ROTC contributes to this program by collecting extra food from the restaurants on USU campus. Their efforts help feed approximately 70 students a month, Finan said.
“When we first started, we were kind of skeptical of if it was really helping,” Finan said. “Then we found out it was helping so many people, we decided to keep doing it.”
While the ROTC promotes leadership skills and provides a variety of training experiences, the bonds made among students contributes to the experience Cruzan said.
“The awesome thing about the ROTC is we take cadets from all different backgrounds all different degrees and you come here and you are embraced,” Cruzan said. “That’s probably the best thing about ROTC, that no matter where you are from or your background, we will take you in and help you accomplish your goals.”