Appreciation Week Celebrates Troops

Mollie Reilly

Military Appreciation Week was held this week at Colgate for the first time ever to show campus-wide support for the members of the United States armed forces. Organized by the College Republicans and the Center for Freedom and Western Civilization, the events brought awareness of the men and women serving overseas while connecting military issues to life at Colgate.

The week began with a panel held Monday afternoon in the Ho Lecture Room entitled “ROTC @ Colgate?” The panel was moderated by Harvey Picker Professor of International Relations Fred Chernoff, and featured U.S. Navy Commander Troy Johnson of the Naval Postgraduate School, author and screenwriter Garner Simmons ’65, Charles A. Dana Professor of Political Science Michael Johnston and Provost and Dean of the Faculty Lyle Roelofs.

The panel began with a brief introduction by Director of the Center for Freedom and Western Civilization, Presidential Scholar and Professor of Political Science Robert Kraynak.

“Our purpose here today is to bring the military and the academy together,” Professor Kraynak said.

The panelists went on to discuss the merits of Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) and how the program would fit in at Colgate should it be reinstated. Colgate had Air Force ROTC until 1971, when the program was forced out due to opposition to the Vietnam War.

“I think this was a mistake,” Simmons said.

Simmons, whose son also graduated from Colgate and went on to enlist in officer training, stressed the importance of having intelligent, critically-thinking individuals at the top of the military. According to Simmons, the ROTC would give Colgate students an opportunity to give back and make a difference in the world. He choked up while talking about his son’s commitment to his country.

Roelofs discussed the logistical side of reinstating ROTC, citing data from peer institutions such as Cornell University. While he believes that the program is sufficiently flexible to work within the Colgate curriculum, issues with the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy would raise concerns over the protection of students’ rights and privacy protection. Roelofs estimates that if instated, ROTC would require 12 students per class year to be involved in the program.

“I think an ROTC unit would bring diversity of an interesting sort to the student body,” Roelofs said.

Professor Johnston also iterated interest in reinstating ROTC, looking at the complex moral dilemmas faced by those in the military as sources of potential value. He also stressed the difference between militarism and the military, making clear that the presence of a ROTC unit on campus would not make the campus inherently pro-war.

“Our curriculum would be enriched by encountering these [moral] dilemmas in meaningful ways,” Professor Johnston said.

Finally, Commander Johnson relayed his experiences in ROTC at the University of Kansas. He emphasized that while the ROTC was a large part of his college experience, he was able to receive a well-rounded education and be involved in other social and extracurricular outlets, such as theater. He said that by having military officers come from a diverse range of academic and personal experiences, the U.S. could avoid a groupthink mentality in the armed forces.

“[A unique college experience] doesn’t have to be independent of serving your country,” Johnson said.

Continuing with the week’s events, the College Republicans hosted a bake sale in the O’Connor Campus Center to benefit the troops. All proceeds will go to support the club’s recently adopted platoon, which will be deployed to Iraq at the end of April.

Finally, Commander Johnson gave a lecture on Tuesday evening in the Persson Auditorium entitled “The Other Mission: Humanitarian Intervention and the U.S. Navy.” Johnson was the Safety Officer aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln, which was the primary aircraft carrier to assist in relief efforts after the Indian Ocean tsunami in December 2004. During the lecture, Commander Johnson described his time with the Navy providing humanitarian aid in Banda Aceh, Indonesia. He also described the what he sees benefits of ROTC during the lecture.

According to College Republicans President junior Andrew Spano, the club hoped to promote awareness and appreciation of the military, as well as instigate a debate on campus about the merits of ROTC.

“We believe that ROTC could only be a benefit to the Colgate community,” Spano said. “It is accepted at so many academic institutions across the country. There is no reason why we shouldn’t have it here. There is an underground network of students who have been waiting for the opportunities that come with ROTC. In addition, it can only strengthen and diversify our armed services, which are already generally considered the most diversified – both physically and ideologically – institutions in society.”