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Defending Their Country, and Reputation

The Reserve Officers Training Corps

By Jay K. Varma

When Sean P. McLaughlin '91 held the door open for a housemate's father last fall, he was only performing a common courtesy.

But McLaughlin, dressed in his Air Force ROTC uniform at the time, says he was suprised at the man's response.

"He made some snide comment," McLaughlin remembers. "Something like 'at least you [ROTC] guys are good for something.'"

"We fought about it [verbally] for 10 to 15 minutes," McLaughlin says.

McLaughlin's story--an "absurd situation," he terms it--exemplifies the verbal harassment some students in the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) say they have had to contend with here. From its tumultuous expulsion off campus in 1969 to last year's debate over returning the program to Harvard, ROTC has had an uneasy relationship with the University.

Most ROTC students admit that they have not been openly harassed, but many acknowledge that they have come to expect "dirty looks" and "stares" when they wear their uniforms.

"There's just a feeling, and that's sad that it exists," says Christina L. Ulses '90, a Navy ROTC student.

"I can feel it generally around campus...definitely a pervasive anti-ROTC feeling," says Mario Mancuso '91, an Army ROTC student. "It's something that you contend with, but you go on."

And though they may face a feeling of campus opposition, ROTC students unanimously continue to declare their pride in what they do, emphatically praising the "camaraderie," "morale" and "togetherness" of the ROTC program.

The cadets and midshipmen argue that ROTC is the best way they can explore new fields and fulfill their obligations as citizens while having their education funded by the government. Serving the government has become a source of unparalleled opportunity and pride in both family and country, they say.

Defending the Country

Currently on a two and-a-half year scholarship from Army ROTC, James P. Coleman '92 cites his family's "very big military tradition" and his "sense of moral patriotism" as the primary reasons for his enlistment.

"Since I was young, I was indoctrinated with the values of military life," says Coleman, whose father was a career military officer.

"I think it's important that clear-minded rational individuals be in a good position to defend the country," Coleman says. "I want to be trained to lead have a moral command."

Sang Yun Kim '92 says that real world experience compelled him to join Army ROTC.

Growing up in Third World countries such as Costa Rica and Dubai, Kim says he realized the importance of the United States military at an early age.

"Many Americans perceive political conflict and military threats as words, something on a TV set...and don't understand the reality of military conflict and what that entails," Kim said.

Though he admits it may seem "cliched," Kim says that he has come to value the freedom of the United States.

"It all sounds very high-brow, but there is reality behind it," Kim says.

And Scott H. Frewing '90 says the prospect of a four-year Navy scholarship was critical in his decision to enlist in the program.

"I couldn't attend Harvard without it," says Frewing.

Of the 85 students currently enlisted in the Army, Navy and Air Force ROTC programs, almost all receive some form of scholarship, officials from the three services say.

The Navy and Air Force offer four-year scholarships to midshipmen and cadets, funding student tuition and textbook expenses and providing a $100 monthly allowance.

Dwindling defense spending, however, has forced the Army to cut back on its ROTC awards, according to Maj. Ralph J. Gabriel, assistant professor of military science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Two years ago, the Army began offering only 80 percent tuition funding to students at institutions such as Harvard that do not host the ROTC program on campus.

In exchange for tuition payments, all students must serve a total of eight years in their respective service upon graduation in active duty, the reserves or the National Guard.

While in college, cadets must take at least one course at MIT, usually centering on some field related to military science, and participate in weekly drills and laboratory exercises, according to ROTC documents.

Most students said that the requirements were not overly burdensome but still demanded effective time management.

Citing his hectic Tuesday schedule of classes, crew practice and ROTC sessions at MIT, Joel D. Hornstein '91, a platoon sergeant in Army ROTC, says he must juggle his activities in order to make the trek to MIT, where all ROTC exercises are held.

"ROTC definitely takes a great deal of time," Hornstein acknowledges.

But beyond the "nuisance" of the commute to MIT, most students deem ROTC challenging but not overly taxing, adding that their time committment is somewhat flexible.

Outside of their standard requirements, ROTC cadets can choose whether to participate in optional activities, according to Commander John B. Watkins, Executive Officer of Navy ROTC at MIT.

"You can put into it as much as you want," Watkins says.

Submarines and Fighter Planes

ROTC cadets say one of the best parts of their training is the experience they get in activities such as rapelling and climbing and the exposure to submarines and fighter planes.

The highlight for Sean M. Doherty '90, a midshipman first class in Navy-ROTC, has been his experience on an attack sub in San Diego.

And Coleman says that the completion of Army Airborne Training at Ft. Benning, Ga. constituted an important part of his ROTC training.

"I was so proud of myself, because it was my first real military training...the first stepping stone," Coleman says.

Many cadets say ROTC has helped them by offering increased management and leadership experience.

Doherty praises ROTC for giving him his "first real management position," while Katherine A. Fehskens '91 adds that the program's leadership training has even "improved [her] bearing in class."

ROTC Stereotypes

But while the ROTC students extoll the virtues of the program, many still express concern over their treatment at Harvard. Stereotypes still plague their full acceptance into the Harvard community, cadets and midshipmen say.

Mancuso said he is particularly offended by the assumption that ROTC students are "anti-intellectual" or "anti-gay."

"I wish the members of the community would be more sensitive to ROTC cadets and particularly not make shallow generalizations and categorize ROTC cadets as anti-intellectual, anti-gay or reactionary," Mancuso says.

Hornstein also singled out the perception of ROTC students as ultra-conservative as particularly misleading.

"We are not a bunch of neo-Nazis acting out pre-pubescent fantasies," Hornstein says, decrying what he says is one of the worst misconceptions of ROTC students.

Hornstein and other ROTC students blame the prevalence of stereotypes for intensifying emotions during last April's debate over the presence of ROTC on campus.

The Undergraduate Council voted last spring to recommend that the Faculty of Arts and Sciences bring ROTC back to campus in order to make the program more accessible to ROTC students and to allow Army cadets to receive the full scholarships denied them because Harvard is not a host school.

The council resolution angered many Harvard students who argued that the ROTC program should not return to the Harvard campus because the armed forces do not allow gays into their ranks.

The Council Reverses Its Decision

On April 30, 1989, after a week of emotional protests, the council reversed its initial decision. Citing its constitution, which requires the body to fight against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, the council voted not to call for the return of ROTC. The Faculty Council is currently debating whether to allow ROTC to use Harvard facilities.

The objections to ROTC were picked up at MIT last week, as 1500 students and faculty members signed a petition calling for the school to "sever all ties" with ROTC by 1994 if it continues to deny scholarships to gay students.

Harvard ROTC students say that the "personalized" atmosphere of last year's council debates exacerbated the problem of stereotypes by emphasizing notions of them as fringe militants.

"Contrary to what most people think, ROTCs are very much in the mainstream," Hornstein says, arguing that stereotypes still exist.

But as a result of the debate over ROTC, cadets and midshipmen say they were still forced to confront the issue of homosexuality in the armed forces by questioning their own values.

"I felt kind of hurt," Mancuso says of last year's controversy. "When you're committed to something and people react to it, you draw inward."

Mancuso says that he was forced to question his values and says he "does so continually." Though he had to "struggle," he says that he finally concluded that participating in ROTC was still "the right thing to do."

"It's never easy to accept the way the set up," Mancuso says. "I continually question the role of the Army...but I'm not cynical about it."

But even while they contemplated the significance of their ROTC participation, virtually all ROTC students say their greatest comfort during the debates last year was their pride in the program.

Doherty said last year's controversy "made [him] proud to be doing ROTC."

"There was increasing morale among the Harvard students [in ROTC]," Doherty says. "We tended to pull together."

ROTC at Other Colleges

Despite their heightened sense of purpose and pride, though, Harvard students must contend with the fact that ROTC has a much better relationship with other college campuses.

Joseph A. Giannone, a Tufts senior in Army ROTC, says that even though the presence of ROTC is "minimal" on the Tufts campus, the atmosphere is "more accepting" than at Harvard.

It is that acceptance, many cadets and midshipmen say, that ROTC students seek to gain on the Harvard campus. And one ROTC student in particular has become acutely aware of that struggle.

"There is a disconcerting feeling...of not being accepted by my peers at Harvard," Coleman says. "It's made it hard."

"I envy those students at Cornell where the ROTC program is highly embraced," says Coleman. "When I saw the real sense of support [there], I said, `Wouldn't I just love to have this kind of encouragement, this kind of support?'

"I'm very envious...very, very envious," Coleman says.

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