You may have seen them walking in the Yard in their white, blue, or camouflage uniforms. They spend a large part of their week marching, keeping physically fit, and taking military sciences classes at a school down the river. About five times a year they practice using pistols, rifles, and other weapons. After graduation they will serve throughout the world as members of our nation's armed forces.
They are the few, the proud. They are Harvard's contigent of the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC).
Requirements Of The Cadets
This year 85 Harvard undergraduates have opted to cross-register at the MIT ROTC program. Eighteen are Army cadets, 46 Navy, and 21 Air Force. Ten years ago, when Harvard students gained permission to cross-register at MIT after Faculty legislation banning ROTC, these numbers were much smaller (see accompanying story).
Army cadets are required to spend a minimum of two hours in classes and several hours in drilling per week. They must also prepare themselves to take the Army's physical fitness test which requires the men do 40 situps and 40 pushups in two minutes each and the two-mile run in 17 minutes and 55 seconds.
During the summer between their junior and senior years, cadets spend six weeks at a ROTC advanced camp at Fort Bragg, N.C., where they are evaluated on their leadership potential, training exercises, and live weapons firings, says Captain Jeffrey A. Welch, a ROTC instructor at MIT.
Undergraduates attend Navy ROTC classes for three to four hours per week, in addition to hour-long drills twice a week sometimes at 7:30 a.m. After their freshmen and junior years, midshipmen sail on month-long summer training cruises in the Mediterranean, Pacific, Atlantic, or anywhere else the Navy goes.
Freshmen and sophomores in Air Force ROTC spend one hour per week in classes at MIT, while juniors and seniors spend three. Cadets also attend a one-hour "leadership lab" each week on "air force related extracurricular activities," and have to be able to run 1.5 miles in 12 minutes, says Air Force Major Simeon S. Tubig, a ROTC instructor at MIT.
After their sophmore year, Air Force ROTC cadets are required to spend four weeks participating in a field training exercise. "They learn military stuff, like marching, Air Force rules, customs, etc.," Tubig says. "It's like summer camp, but a lot harder."
Some ROTC cadets and midshipmen find all these time obligations difficult to juggle along with their Harvard academics, varsity athletics, extracurricular activities, or a social life. For some, being in ROTC means sacrificing one of these areas, while others say they can manage to do it all.
"If you are totally organized, and incredibly motivated, then you can do well in school and great in extracurriculars," says a freshman in Navy ROTC who did not wish to be identified. "But you have to give up a lot in socializing, talking with and meeting people which is the most important part about Harvard."
"There is a definite tradeoff between studying and ROTC unless you give up your social life," says the midshipman, who is "pretty sure" he is going to quit ROTC next year. "If ROTC was more flexible to allow for greater participation in other activities, I think it would benefit their program and they would be able to retain more people."
Army cadet M. Erik Wiese '89 concurs with his Navy counterpart. "ROTC does interfere with academics and extracurriculars," he says. "But you have to set some priorities, service to your country or service to yourself." Wiese participates in freshman crew and is a member of the Pershing Rifles, a military fraternity organization.
"The army allows for other extracurriculars; I row crew, and they allow me," says Eliot House resident Erik G. Kaardal '88, who is also the Harvard Republican Club's program director. "It's admittedly time consuming, but it's a great opportunity to further my education."
"It does somewhat constrain my social life, but it allows me to use my managerial skills," Kaardal says. "However I wouldn't say that Army ROTC classes hurt my academics here."