ROTC Eye for the College Guy or Gal: Straight Talk Insight from an AFROTC Alumnus

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Jason Ram
  • 315th Training Squadron
Why do you want to join the Air Force Reserve Officers Training Corps?

What is it about this program that caught your eye? Is it the uniform? The camaraderie? The benefits? Or could it be a combination of all three, topped by a healthy dose of patriotism?

Before reading any further, I urge you to please pause and ask yourself why you are considering the chance to attend an Air Force Officer's training program and, if successfully complete it, commit to lead a career as a military leader post college.

If you're still not sure by now, then it is in the sincerest hopes of this junior officer that clarity and peace of mind will reach you by the end of this article.

The words to follow draw from my own personal experience in answering this very question through four years in AFROTC while dealing with some of the most common highs, lows and financial blows associated with college life.

Money Matters: How will I pay for college?

There was once a time when a college education actually came at a reasonable price; ranging anywhere from $5,000-$8,000 a year in the 1980s, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Needless to say, the 80's are over and now the figures run closer to $32,000 or more for many four year institutions. With such tuition hikes ever on the rise, many are driven into enormous debt via loans, take on part-time jobs to stem the tide or decide to save money first and take a "temporary break" from school that often becomes permanent.

As a guy who consistently worked overnight security jobs to cover expenses while also an active student, journalist and cadet, I can attest to the pain involved in having to shell out hundreds of dollars for textbooks, parking passes, student association fees, printing services, Starbucks, Top Ramen and gas. While none of it was easy - none of it would have been equally possible had I not taken up the financial benefits found in military training.

ROTC Reality

Although the program offers a "try it or buy it" type option where new students can attend training without incurring government obligation for up to two years, cadets are also welcome to sign up earlier and receive financial assistance from an early start.

Those who apply and qualify for such assistance are expected to serve a minimum of four years in the military post-college, after which they can receive an honorable discharge, return home or stay in and continue to advance their career - any decision is a win-win for the member. While my experience taught me that there really is no catch in terms of what is clearly expected and given, the decision to "cross into the blue" is one that must be made with care and consideration This is also a choice that is quickly becoming a competitive one among college students, as the economic woes of today have created a leveled playing field for the careers of tomorrow, especially in the service. Simply put, for every one individual who qualifies to serve, there are at least a dozen others just like them ready and willing to take their spot should the opportunity arise. Far from low on recruiting numbers, today's Air Force is a branch that selects, expects and handsomely pays for the absolute best of its people.

Social Security: How will I fit in?

As the mission of AFROTC is to "develop quality leaders for the Air Force," they do this in baby steps and gradually welcome freshman via "new student orientations", assign senior cadets as dedicated big-brother or sister-type mentors, launch various community service projects on both local and national levels as well as establish student clubs indifferent to those found on campus. By utilizing this support system, students who join AFROTC often find a strong degree of acceptance amongst each other in a positive, driven atmosphere where teamwork is critical to success and lasting friendships are forged in time. Examples of such bonds can be found in the way military members tend to "stick together" due to a shared mindset of always watching out for their troops at all times.

Try and Apply: Life Lessons Learned

Merriam-Webster defines education as "...knowledge and development result from an education process..." and experience as "practical knowledge, skill or practice derived from direct observation of or participation in events or in a particular activity." While these two words stand apart by definition, life dictates they are forever linked, since experience fosters knowledge and also serves as an educational experience. That said, it should be of no surprise that many students use college as the chance to gain knowledge and experience in activities nowhere near helpful, conducive to good health or applicable to life beyond academics.

ROTC Reality

While some perceive military training as useful only to the military, the reality is that such could not be further from the truth. Upon entering AFROTC as a 100-level cadet, the first two things I learned were how to project an image of confidence at all times and how to communicate effectively. The next three years focused on personal discipline, self-defense, proper nutrition, morals, ethics, financial security, time management and leadership. The end results from all this was that my academic performance improved ten-fold via time management and I found myself quickly able to identify and avoid poor decisions along the way. Others in my military class tried and applied such lessons accordingly, and also learned to better balance school and work, sort out personal matters or find financial security where there was once none. While many four year institutions offer these skills through a variety of departments, it is hard to say if they could be provided to students just as easily and effectively as they are in AFROTC. One needs to look no further than to great Americans like Colin Powell (Army), Eileen Collins (Air Force), Drew Carey (Marine Corps), Malcolm Forbes (Army), Bill Cosby (Navy), Morgan Freeman (Navy) and Chuck Norris (Air Force) for examples of how military training can excel life outside the uniform.

How does it relate to me? Is it really worth it in the end?

The primary purpose of college is to provide a place for people to learn about a career field they will likely pursue later. Consequently, it is also a place used to learn about who they are and provides four to six years to decide if personal interest, dreams and desires of tomorrow match with the majors they are studying today.

ROTC Reality

While no one could ever answer this question better than yourself, AFROTC is an ideal place to figure out exactly what you're made of in life. Since the very nature of military training is to push people to their highest limits and then teach them how to go beyond that, learning about one's innermost potential and ability is almost a given here. Designed to take college students from all walks of life and turn them into qualified Air Force leaders in just a few short years, AFROTC offers an opportunity to Americans rarely found elsewhere - to "try" the military and find out if it really is for them.

Every year, this program has an incredibly consistent habit of producing exceptional military leaders for the future, nationwide. The question of whether or not you will be part of this future can be answered at one of over 1,000 training units found in every state - where the Air Force Core Values of "Integrity First, Service before Self and Excellence in All We Do" are considered as not just ideals, but also a way of life.

If any of the above sounds like you, then AFROTC may very well need a person with your drive! If not, then there are at least five other students out there, ready and willing to accept the opportunity you may pass up. Regardless of which route you take, I wish you good luck and all the best to your success!