Behind the scenes of ASU ROTC
For most students, the time before 9 a.m. consists of a warm shower, a few outfit changes and, if they’re lucky, a standard cup of coffee to start the day. However, for a particular group of students, the early morning hours consist of an entire day’s worth of physical training and at least an hour-and-a-half of a workday. They’re not just early morning risers – they’re scholars, they’re athletes, they’re leaders – they’re the ASU ROTC students
With over 80,000 enrolled students at ASU, about 170 students -- less than one percent of the entire student population -- have enrolled as ROTC students in hopes of one day serving our country as a well-educated and well-equipped leader.
As an ROTC student, not only do they have to report for early morning physical training three days a week, complete military based courses and participate in several leadership training events outside the typical allotted time for school work, but they also have to balance a regular home, work and college life.
Cadet Kathleen Moore, a junior studying urban planning, is in her second year of ROTC and says that one of the most challenging parts of being in the program is balancing all the different parts of life as a young adult.
“We are college students, but we are also not,” she says, “We are going to be future officers, so it’s hard that you have to balance it all.”
Moore says that she and many of her fellow peers also work a part-time job, making their day-to-day life busier than the average student. However, she says that in balancing a hectic schedule there are certain benefits in learning how to be both disciplined and balanced.
While they may all wear the same camouflage uniforms and lace up boots; run the same drills and military training exercises; and have the same sense of patriotic pride, they each have a different story and reason behind their decision in joining ASU ROTC.
For Cadet Gerald Prater, a senior positioned as the Battalion Commander in the ROTC program, his story begins with his childhood as a “military brat.” Before Prater, his father and stepfather both served in the military for over 20 years. He says that he became quite familiar with the constant motions of moving – a life he initially wanted to steer away from. But as he grew older and heard of all the stories behind military life from his stepfather, he realized the caliber that came with a position in the U.S. Army.
Prater says that it is a common thread among many students in the program to have family members and ties to the military before them.
Shortly after graduating high school, Prater went to basic training followed by a few years of active duty where he became an Army Sergeant. While serving in Afghanistan for 10 months, he worked under the Chief of Staff in the Army, Gen. Mark A. Milley. Witnessing Prater’s work as a soldier, Gen. Milley recommended Prater to apply for the Green to Gold Active Duty Program.
The Green to Gold Program allows enlisted active duty soldiers to choose a university where they will complete a two-year degree and earn a commission as an Army Officer.
Prater says that his original intentions with the Army did not include college, but after being chosen for the Green to Gold program and learning of the opportunities that follow, he chose to pursue a college career at ASU.
He says that it wasn’t until after comparing the political science programs at a few different colleges that he knew ASU would be the best choice for his political ambitions both in and out of the Army.
He adds that the transition from working as an active duty sergeant to becoming an ROTC student was challenging at first. Not only did he have to balance his life as husband, father and student, but he was also stripped of his sergeant stripes in order to learn and study as a normal cadet just like the rest of the group.
“It was a really humbling experience for me, but it has given me a different appreciation for the officers out of the house,” he says. “So I’m getting a different understanding of what I need to do to get ready to be an officer.”
Prater says that there is a wide and varied spectrum of students within the program, including many of who have served, like Prater, prior to joining the ROTC program.
“The active duty population is significantly smaller, but if you include National Guard and people who have at least gone through basic training, then I say at least 20 percent of the population has had at least some kind of prior service,” Prater says, “So you can imagine how their contributions to the program only make it better.”
Experiencing life on the war front – actually performing the drills, exercises and strategies past the confines of the classroom – leave some with the lasting mark of post-traumatic stress disorder.
According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, about 11 to 20 percent of the war veterans in Iraq and Afghanistan have PTSD in a given year. While about 12 percent of Gulf War veterans experience PTSD.
Prater says that the way in which soldiers deal with PTSD will vary from person to person, but adds that the ASU ROTC community gives students access to a multitude of different resources to help.
“They really do provide a lot of resources for people and they are constantly seeking out people who are suffering from PTSD, so I would say this would be a good area for veterans to come because there are so many veterans here and there is somebody that they can relate to,” he says.
It is easily assumed that with a position in the program, one leaves with the mastery of the many different combatant situations, but something that is not just merely taught in the classroom or on the field, is the sense of camaraderie and connections they make with their fellow cadets.
“I think that this is a great place for any veteran to come regardless of if he has PTSD or not, because they are going to get connected,” Prater says.
Though ROTC students are well versed in combat simulations, land navigation skills and team tactics, they are also trained to be knowledgeable about all the different facets involved with serving.
One of the program’s most recent leadership training events was at Papago Park Military Reservation where they dedicated their weekend to learning new leadership exercises that prepared them for much more than just bomb detection.
Over the course of the weekend, the students underwent evaluation as they were challenged with unique drills that involved anything from learning how to deal with different cultures cues to learning how to appropriately deal with media outlets while on duty.
ASU’s ROTC has recently employed a group of younger and recently returned soldiers who have brought a certain “spice” and diversity to the program, Prater says.
“I think that a lot of times with organizations such as these, you tend to get complacent when you are used to doing the mundane task over and over again. So it is kind of like spicing it up a bit when you add these new Cadre members and faculty members because they come fresh out of the Army,” he says.
Military Science Instructor Sgt. 1st Class Max Pumfrey started working at the program in January and teaches freshmen. Before working as an ASU faculty member for ROTC, he served as a Platoon Sgt. in the 82nd Airborne Division in Fort Bragg.
“I would say right now this is the best the program has been for a while, because I think the cadre here are young and they’re fresh in their careers,” Pumfrey says. “We are all eager and we are ready to get out there and train these individuals and make them the best they can be.”
Although ROTC is easily identified for their disciplined and hard working cornerstones, Pumfrey says that one of their fundamentals that is often overlooked is community outreach.
“We do a lot of things at the high schools and work with their JROTC programs ... and try to mold these younger generations so that they can be successful people, not just in the Army, but in life in general,” Pumfrey says.
Prater adds that they try to give the freshmen the responsibility in organizing a fundraiser every spring semester to help the community.
“We really want to reach out and get that point across that there’s no way that you could serve this country without the people who are giving into this system,” Prater says.