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ROTC; Standing taller on campus

I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion, so help me God.

- ROTC loyalty oath

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The soft, muffled padding of sneakers on damp pavement recedes in the pre-dawn fog as a student jogger winds his way through the Massachusetts Institute of Technology campus.

Silence follows.

Then footfalls again sound - crisp, definite. This time it is leather, not rubber, slapping the cement. Under a streetlight two students in uniform pass from opposite directions. Without breaking stride each salutes the other and continues on.

Just where the runner was going at so early an hour is open to speculation. But anyone familiar with Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) on campus in the '80s knows the other two young men, one in navy, the other in Air Force blue, are on their way to more than just a military drill session.

What a difference a decade makes!

The pendulum has swung all the way back from when Vietnam-era protesters picketed ROTC offices and demanded that college administrations boot the military off campus.

Today, colleges and military officials report more-conservative, more-career-oriented, more-patriotic students swelling the ranks of ROTC programs. ''Not only do most students no longer consider it 'bad' to be in the military,'' says Professor Stayton Curtis, academic coordinator of military education at Boston University, ''but many colleges consider it unwise if they don't offer some kind of ROTC option to their students.'' Supporters of ROTC view it as the university in the military, not the military in the university.

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For the 1982-83 school year there were 72,462 students enrolled in Army ROTC. Add to this the Air Force's 25,500 and the Navy's 8,968, and the figure for full-time ROTC candidates is just under 107,000.

This represents a dramatic about-face from the antimilitary atmosphere on campus when national enrollment figures for Army, Air Force, and Navy ROTC reached their lowest point in 1973 at 61,000.

The draft made military service mandatory for young men. Being in the ROTC too often had the negatively pragmatic image of ''If I'm going to be drafted, I might as well go as an officer.''

Pragmatism isn't ruled out now, either, say ROTC officials, but it's of a positive kind today. And a feeling of patriotism is much more often cited as one of the reasons a student decides to join.

Most of today's undergraduates were just learning to walk as the Vietnam era was winding down. Events in Afghanistan, Iran, and Poland - not those in Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia - are what they watched on the six-o'clock news.

''Many of my mids (midshipmen) start out with the purely practical, but this fades. It grows into a joining, a commitment,'' says Marine Corps Col. Michael Stein, commanding officer of Navy ROTC at the University of Oregon.

''We reach young people at a time in their lives when they are beginning to understand the meaning of commitment. And we don't want them to have any illusion about the kinds of commitments we expect. We want them to succeed, but we don't want to coddle them,'' says Colonel Stein.

''I'm not set apart by ROTC, I'm set ahead,'' says MIT senior Joe Mason, who is headed for a commission in the Navy this June.

Nationally, more than 20,000 qualified students received ROTC scholarships during the 1982-83 academic year. Scholarship students receive tuition, laboratory and incidental fees, reimbursement for textbooks, and a nontaxable subsistence allowance of $100 a month during the academic year.

ROTC nonscholarship students enrolled in the advanced military science courses receive the nontaxable subsistence allowance. They also receive military-science credits that count toward their college degree as well as a commission.

Besides the financial help ROTC gives collegians (and by far this is the single most important reason for student enrollment) there are many other reasons why students are joining.

Job security upon graduation is high on the list. Each ROTC candidate knows an officer slot with competitive entry-level pay is waiting for him.

And for today's career-conscious graduate, say ROTC commanding officers, there is also the knowledge that after a first tour of duty, should they find the military not for them (more than 60 percent opt out after the required three- or four-year hitch), the leadership and technical skills acquired are often easily transferable to civilian life.

Since high school, David Zilber had an interest in the maritime industry. A senior at the University of South Carolina, his major is marine science.

When asked why someone should consider an ROTC program, Mr. Zilber answers: ''I took the scholarship because there was the obvious financial advantage to it , plus there was job security upon graduation'' - no small consideration, he says. ''A sense of patriotism just kind of evolved as I stayed in the program, but honestly, my initial decision was much more practical.''

''I used ROTC as a back-up to the Naval Academy, and when I got the four-year ROTC scholarship I realized I wanted a more normal college experience plus naval training. ROTC could give me both, and Annapolis could only give me Navy,'' says the Cleveland, Ohio, native.

The same reasoning shaped Bob Rozier's decision to come from Riverton, Wyo., to MIT's Naval ROTC program. ''It would have been a lot harder without the ROTC scholarship,'' he says. Confidence and discipline are two of the major nonfinancial benefits he feels have accrued to him from being in ROTC. ''Plus the fact that you always have an experienced, military advisor to talk with,'' and not just about military matters, but academics and life in general.

Students also like the fact that the on-campus ROTC experience affords a peer-support group much like a fraternity.

''I've had two worlds, two groups of friends, one in Navy ROTC and one out,'' adds MIT senior Joe Mason. ''It's been like a training and support group, like a frat with everyone having the same goals.''

''The first time I put on a uniform and walked down the street I was apprehensive,'' says Pat Kerry, who enrolled in Army ROTC at Boston University. ''I needed money to stay in school.'' However, he adds that, ''It's clear we're accepted on campus; we stand out as individuals, because we're doing something different.''

''Self-confidence is developed because students know they're doing something most of their peers are not,'' says Kathy Ernst, a nonscholarship Army ROTC candidate at Boston University, ''especially when the six-week (paid) summer programs are factored in.'' (The Navy schedules summer cruises, while the Army and Air Force have basic training programs for officer candidates.)

Women comprise more than 15 percent of Army ROTC participants, 20 percent of those in Air Force ROTC, and 7 percent in the Navy ROTC program. Pragmatism, patriotism, and adventure play just as important a role for them as for men candidates, say ROTC commanders.

''I consider myself very feminine,'' says Ms. Ernst. ''But when you're covered with war paint, crawling in the mud, learning to throw a hand grenade, you have to ask 'Why am I doing this?' I had to gain self-confidence in a way that I never had, and push myself more than I ever thought I could.''

''We're here to train leaders, to develop young people morally, mentally, and physically,'' says Capt. David N. Denton, commanding officer of Naval ROTC at the University of South Carolina. ''One way we do this is to train students to think and write on their feet. When we accept someone, all the indicators say this person will make it. But if he can't handle the regular college program, he's no use to the Navy as an officer.

''For Lt. Col. Richard B. Allen, commanding officer of Army ROTC at Boston University, each candidate must receive his approval based upon a personal assessment of a student's capability to be an officer. ''I don't want to commission an officer I wouldn't want my son or daughter to go into combat under.

''While the number of campuses across the country with ROTC programs continues to grow, some colleges and universities don't see it as necessary. Yale University is one.

''The Army and Navy left Yale back in 1969-70,'' says John G. Zornig, Yale associate professor and coordinator of the university's cross-enrollment ROTC program. (The cross-enrollment program allows students at some 800 campuses without ROTC to a join an officer-candidate program at a nearby school.) ''The Yale faculty laid down a set of restrictions that, in fact, forced them to withdraw. The university would not give credit for military-science courses, and it would not confer nominal faculty titles on the military-science instructors. They were not throwing them off campus, just making it impossible to stay on.

''But ROTC is now sufficiently successful on so many colleges that it's not clear the Army or Navy would come back to Yale,'' Professor Zornig says. ''It would take bending on both sides to work out an acceptable program, and it is true that Yale has not gone to the extremes some other colleges have to welcome back ROTC.

''Each of the more than 415 ROTC units on the nation's campuses has a cadre of experienced career military officers assigned to it. However, the military will not go onto a campus unless credit is granted for ROTC courses and faculty standing is awarded to ROTC instructors.

After graduation, a scholarship candidate's military obligation is four years of active duty and two years in the reserve. For nonscholarship students, it is three years active, three reserve. As of September 1983, a student receivng an ROTC scholarship will have to ''sign on the dotted line'' (make the decision to accept the four-year active-duty obligation upon graduation) by the beginning of his or her sophomore year. Previously, the deadline was the beginning of a candidate's junior year, which is still true for nonscholarship candidates.

Once a student reaches the point in his scholarship where he must agree to a military commitment, reneging on that contract is very difficult. ''In effect,'' says Lt. Col. Allen, ''when a student wants out, if a student fails to meet his scholarship duties, he is called up in an enlisted status upon graduation to serve in the military.'' In other words, he's drafted. This prevents a student from using the military to get a free academic ride.

And someone considering ROTC shouldn't have any ''deep hang-ups about authority,'' say most of the candidates interviewed. It still is the military.

There is also competition for the best ranking, as this affects future military advancement and placement. Competition for academic scholarships is keen. College Board scores and a physical examination are important factors in the rewarding of four-year scholarships. For those entering the program without one, it is still possible to get a scholarship, based on the recommendation of the commanding officer.

''The Air Force builds up internal pressures,'' says Lora Lundquist of Bozeman, Mont., who is enrolled in Air Force ROTC at Boston University. ''We learn that leadership is a lot like management, and we learn that the best leadership is by example.''

One internal pressure she and many young women like her face in ROTC is the restriction that prevents women from holding combat positions. The military chain of command may be genderless, but rising higher in that chain of command is contingent on handling the tougher assignments. Ms. Lundquist wants to fly fighter planes, but at present is prohibited by law from doing so.

Gender is no barrier in the career path Petra McDonald chose. She switched over to Army nursing after working in civilian nursing.

''I have a lot more responsibility as an Army nurse than I ever had in civilian nursing,'' she says. ''There, the doctors let you know your place. And one thing that really stood out to me in the Army - everybody gets the same pay for the same work. I didn't feel I was losing out because I was a woman.''

Since joining ROTC at Boston University, she has seen no limits to her advancement. After being an Army nurse, she saw the advantage to becoming an officer, and went back to school.

The actual time a student is involved in ROTC averages between five and seven hours a week, with three hours of military science courses and two hours of drill required. Uniforms are worn to classes and drill. Often, intramural teams are fielded by ROTC units, and many have a drum and bugle corps. The six-week summer program takes place over three summers for scholarship students, and in one summer for nonscholarship students. One exercise that seems compulsory for ROTC students, whether they're scholarship students or not, is to rappel down the tallest building on campus.

For career military personnel who are now ROTC commanders, it ''wasn't always such a good thing to be in uniform,'' says Colonel Allen. ''We know what a challenge it is to serve, so we have a built-in empathy for these kids.''

This shows in some of the comments students make: ''I expected drill sergeant instructors at summer camp would be off the wall,'' says candidate Pat Kerry, ''but by the end of six weeks, I knew they cared about each and every one of us, and I saw the DS had a real sense of humor.''

One thing is certain in Colonel Stein's view: ''It would be an error to perceive ROTC as militarism. It is essential that the leadership of the military establishment be drawn from as wide a scope and background as possible, so that the very democratic values it may be called on to defend won't be lost to the singlemindedness of a professional elite.''

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