Colgate ROTC Re-emerges

A corner of the fourth floor of Lathrop Hall, which was partially vacated after the opening of the Robert H.N. Ho Science Center, now looks like a U.S. Army recruiting office. Posters and pamphlets advertise the training and financial incentives of the Army Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program. Colgate, like many other colleges and universities, disbanded its ROTC program during the Vietnam War era. Until this semester, Colgate students who wished to participate in ROTC had to commute to Syracuse University twice a week to participate in their Army ROTC program.

Three Colgate students, junior Stephen Kendrex, first-year Alan He and sophomore David Ko, currently participate in Army ROTC. Last semester, Major Eric Schaertl came to Colgate to meet with the cadets once a week to relieve their commuting time.

“We met everywhere,” He said. “Mostly Huntington gym, the track outside when it was warm out and Sanford Field House. Major Schaertl even came to the Coop to meet a couple times.”

Major Schaertl joined with members of the Colgate faculty and administration to help meet the students’ need for a space on campus. The administration gave ROTC the space in Lathrop Hall for classes and meetings. Army First Sergeant Ken Alcorn, who has been with ROTC for six years, was tapped to lead the program. He has been in the Army for 24 years, serving tours in Germany and Korea, a combat tour in Desert Storm and a stint as a drill sergeant at Fort Jackson. Alcorn was chosen for his expertise in building ROTC programs on college campuses; the program he started three years ago at Utica College has flourished under his leadership.

“The motivation and will to try and make this program happen between Colgate and the Army caught fire over Christmas break,” Alcorn said. Alcorn will spend Thursdays at Colgate, Tuesdays at Syracuse University and the rest of the week at Utica College. In the future, depending on the success of the program, Alcorn envisions spending two days a week at Colgate. Two other cadets, one from SUNY Morrisville and one female cadet from Hamilton College, will participate in Colgate’s program.

“What we’re looking at to do here is take baby steps and grow,” Alcorn said. Four additional Colgate students have already expressed interest in the program since it has had increased its visibility on campus. Kendrex set up a booth at last week’s activities fair. Lieutenant Colonel Susan Hardwick, who leads the Syracuse Army ROTC program, is going to meet with President of the University and Professor of Philosophy and Religion Rebecca Chopp at some point to figure out the details of Colgate’s relationship with ROTC. Sergeant Alcorn and the cadets are planning to have an open house for the Colgate community sometime in mid-March.

“To grow an ROTC program in my opinion is not done by the cadre or the people who are running it; it’s done by the students,” Alcorn said. “If the program is good, they enjoy it and talk about it and then other people want to do it. The best recruiters are the college students.” Alcorn also stressed the advantages that ROTC can offer to the Colgate community.

“A lot of campuses like having ROTC because they can get color guards for sporting events and other events on

campus,” Alcorn said. “There is a lot we can do for the campus, but in the baby steps, color guards are the first thing we can do to draw visibility and help the campus.” ROTC is also looking to get involved in community service programs and other projects.

The current cadets speak warmly of the leadership training and financial incentives that ROTC offers. Kendrex said he got involved with ROTC during his third semester on campus. Kendrex and Alcorn both noted that it is not necessary for a student to start ROTC during his or her first year of college: an interested student could join ROTC even if he or she only had three semesters left of college.

In order to catch up on missed credits, Kendrex spent last summer training at Fort Knox, where he learned crucial leadership and combat skills. Kendrex earned nearly $6,000 for this experience. Kendrex still drives to Syracuse once a week. As a junior, he is currently in the stage of the program where he needs to be able to interact with his peers. Alan He and David Ko will be able to fulfill all of their ROTC Basic Course requirements on the Colgate campus.

“I believe in military service,” He said. He applied to Colgate early decision and got involved with ROTC during his first year. “ROTC didn’t factor in my choice of college, but it was something I knew I wanted.”

If Colgate’s program is a success, He and Ko will not have to commute to Syracuse at all.

“If we do everything perfectly and the school is happy to have us here, Alan will be the start of Colgate’s own program, and Kendrex will only have to go to Syracuse a few times,” Alcorn said. “The goal is to stop the commuting. The goal with me coming here is to make it easier for them. The program is for the cadets. We’re trying to bring ROTC to the students.”

As ROTC grows at Colgate, so does their visibility on campus. Kendrex, He and Ko can be seen walking around the quad in Army fatigues on Thursdays.

“The school doesn’t seem to know about us yet,” Kendrex said. “We have to raise our visibility. But all reaction has been positive. No problems, no negative attitudes.” Sergeant Alcorn echoed this feeling, calling his time so far at Colgate a “pleasant, positive experience.”

Colgate now has several groups of students participating in military service. In fact, Colgate has its own “Semper Fi” community of students who are enrolled in Officer Candidate School for the United States Marine Corps. Sophomore Devin Casey is a Private First Class in the United States Army Reserves.

“I’m very excited to have a military presence on campus,” Casey said. “It is a great community that has a lot to offer. Many people here don’t really know much about it and could learn a lot from anyone involved in the program.”

Casey is in combat support for the Army’s 325th Battalion. He drills out of East Windsor, Connecticut. He hopes to sit in on a few ROTC classes and join the group for physical training. Casey is thinking about joining ROTC some time in the future, when he comes back from deployment.

Alcorn said the program’s goals for this semester are to “get a presence on campus, get accepted on campus and gage the reaction of the campus.” Alcorn hopes to grow to a squad size, with ten to fifteen cadets, as a short-term goal.

Alcorn stressed that students can start participating while they go through the process of becoming a contracted cadet. Prospective candidates for ROTC have to have a GPA of at least 2.5 and be able to pass a physical fitness test. The ROTC program pays cadets for all Colgate’s tuition and fees, plus $1200 a year for books and a monthly stipend which ranges from $300 a month to $500 a month, depending on their class year.

“The goal of anyone who does ROTC is to get a scholarship,” Alcorn said. “It’s a great deal, to get paid to go to college.”

Right now, Colgate’s ROTC program is taking “baby steps,” says Alcorn. ROTC’s presence on campus emerged as a solution for a student need. In the next few years, they hope to “grow based on needs and interests of students here at Colgate.”