Surviving in the shadow of its past, the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) is kept alive at Stanford by a few students who, for a minimum of three days a week, wake up before sunrise for physical training and classes at various other college campuses throughout the Bay Area.
ROTC is a program in which the U.S. Armed Forces provide full four-year scholarships and military training to college students in exchange for eight years of obligatory military service upon graduation. Students of ROTC graduate as officers and receive monthly tax-free stipends in addition to their scholarships.
In 1969, during the height of the antiwar movement at Stanford, the once very popular program was removed from Stanford’s campus and has not since been reinstated. Because Stanford does not currently offer ROTC training or courses, Stanford students involved with ROTC must travel to Santa Clara University, San Jose State, or Berkeley, depending on the branch of the military with which they serve.
Jimmy Ruck ’11 and Katie McCaffree ’12 are two of four Army ROTC members at Stanford. Both Ruck and McCaffree have close family members that have served in the military and say that they both have always been drawn to the idea of public service.
“I always knew I wanted to serve in the military, in some capacity. For me, the Army was the best choice. I’m thankful for what this country has given to me, and, so in some ways, I want to help in whatever capacity I can,” said Ruck.
The leadership training and generous scholarship also weigh heavily on the minds of students considering ROTC. “Paying for college is a huge financial burden on parents, and so I wanted to help my parents out and alleviate that burden as much as possible,” said McCaffree. “ROTC provided me an opportunity to do that, and also, the years of service after the scholarship really provide a good leadership opportunity. So, whether I stay in the military or whether I leave, I feel I will be prepared for whatever comes my way,” she said.
Ruck says that his favorite thing about being a member of ROTC is the vast array of opportunities the program affords him when he graduates. “When I leave Stanford, I’m very excited because I’ll have the chance to be a platoon leader as a second lieutenant in the United States Army. I can’t personally think of any other job in the civilian world where, right out of college, within a year, you would typically be in charge of thirty guys. Not only responsible for leading them, but responsible for their lives and millions of dollars of equipment and accomplishing the mission,” said Ruck.
Not surprisingly, both Ruck and McCaffree find the heavy time commitment to be their least favorite aspect of the program. Ruck and McCaffree say they usually wake up at around 5:00 a.m. on those mornings in which they have classes or training. Three times a week or more, the two, along with Stanford’s two other current Army ROTC members, drive to Santa Clara University where they complete their physical training and course requirements.
“We’re college students, so it’s not like we can go to sleep at 10:00 p.m. We’re going to sleep past midnight and getting, at most, five hours of sleep, so we have to take naps during the day. It’s tough, and it takes away from class time,” says Ruck.
Both Ruck and McCaffree said that they do find time to enjoy themselves. “Once in a blue moon, we will have weekend exercises, but, for the most part, most of my weekends are fairly free,” said McCaffree. Echoing that sentiment, Ruck said, “I’m not getting much sleep, but I still feel like I’m having the college experience.”
Regarding the reinstatement of ROTC curriculum at Stanford, McCaffree made the point that more Stanford students would likely give the program more thought if it was more convenient.
In response to inquiries as to why Stanford has not reinstated its ROTC program, Vice Provost for Student Affairs(VPSA) Greg Boardman merely stated, “The decision regarding ROTC took place 40 years ago.”