When my parents asked me about the most exciting thing I’ve done so far this semester, I knew precisely how I’d answer.
Thoughts of late night excursions, difficult assignments or my new roommate never crossed my mind; the first thing I thought of was sitting in MLS 102, learning to read and orientate maps. For students like me who have wanted, but never had, the opportunity to learn practical and tactical skills, military science courses and ROTC programs at college offer a new life.
I was ecstatic when President Obama called for colleges to welcome ROTC programs in his State of the Union address and and furious upon reading an article in The Huffington Post by Joe Mirabella that was hypercritical of ROTC programs.
In his article, Mirabella, a community organizer and blogger from Seattle, chides colleges for allowing military recruiters on both college and high school campuses. He insists that they “actively prey upon the poor and disadvantaged,” aid in the perpetuation of the military industrial complex, undermine the focus colleges should have on education and divert potential funds from investments in the PeaceCorps, AmeriCorps, tuition reimbursement and the like.
Mirabella’s argument reflects a misconception about ROTC and the American military in general: that military service is a flimsy pretense for warmongering and profiteering. Mirabella only serves to perpetuate points that ignore the value of having a strong military and well-trained, educated soldiers, as well as the priceless work our military does off the battlefield.
Forgotten in the fog of war are the more menial jobs within the military such as administrative positions, cooks, mail clerks, technicians, etc., as well as the humanitarian work and peace operations performed by military personnel in disaster-ridden emergency areas. U.S. forces have worked to improve water supplies in Ecuador, repair flood barriers in Bangladesh, build medical clinics in Uganda, train residents to remove land mines in Vietnam and distribute supplies in Haiti.
The U.S. military isn’t represented by grainy footage labeled “Collateral Damage,” or the images of tortured and humiliated prisoners-of-war. It’s represented by everyday American soldiers that sacrifice themselves and suffer through the horrors of war for intangible idealism and patriotic beliefs.
Since the days of Vietnam, some of the country’s more liberal colleges that have eyes toward protesting foreign confrontations and the academic rigor of military programs, have banned forms of military recruitment on campus. Rather than disavow the option, colleges – VCU included – should embrace military classes for their training, teamwork activities, emphasis on nutritional and physical fitness, and efforts to instill the leadership skills that today’s youth too often lack.
While I may not be able to ace organic chemistry or identify what happens when concentrates of an alcohol solution are introduced to brine shrimp, I can look at a map, distinguish grid north, magnetic north and true north, navigate to a control point, convert azimuths, determine elevation, and link landscape features and contours on a map to physical locations.
The skills taught in ROTC programs are not exclusively beneficial to those entering the army; they overlap with the interpersonal and life skills needed to succeed in the real world. In the new world of abstract technology and social media, the discipline and rigid traditionalism taught through military instruction is precisely what all college students need to excel in life.