ROTC students in uniform trigger varied reactions
From left to right, Biola students Matthew Norman, Joel Wallace, Steven Hatton and Joshua Cole participate in the ROTC program at Cal State Fullerton University. | Anna Warner/THE CHIMES
Matthew Norman's neatly laced boots are braced square against a corner — a corner at the top of a 75-foot wall. A rope, barely a few inches wide, weaves through the carabiner hooked to his harness. The hot California sun shines down onto his earth-colored uniform. His back slowly moves to parallel the faraway campus ground. Norman hears the encouragement of fellow cadets and the loud clear voice of a sergeant on the ground cutting through the air. All of his trust rests in the spotter on the mat below. He pushes off.
Over 100 uniformed students watch as one by one, their fellow cadets make it down the endless slab of cold gray concrete. It takes guts to rappel down a wall. But it also takes discipline and integrity to build oneself to serve his or her country.
Nine Biolans participated in a rappelling exercise last Saturday with the Army ROTC at California State University Fullerton. Known as the Titan Battalion, the military officer and leadership program incorporates students from CSUF, Biola, Vanguard, Chapman, Whittier College and Orange County community colleges.
When ROTC cadets wear their uniform on campus, they receive many thanks from students and faculty, who assume they have already served in a branch of the military.
"A lot of times we feel uncomfortable when people thank us for our service. They say the same thing to people who have gone on tour. At the same time we tell cadets not to necessarily blow that off . . . we are going to serve. I appreciate it, especially at Biola," said Norman, a senior political science major and cadet first lieutenant.
TRAINING WITH A GOAL IN MIND
Students in ROTC have not necessarily served in the armed forces yet. When a cadet finishes the first two years of the program learning Army basics, they can make the decision to move on to advanced instruction and leadership training with an ultimate goal of commissioning into the U.S. Army as active duty, reserves or National Guard, and have a university degree.
Sophomore sociology major and first semester ROTC cadet, Steven Hatton, usually responds graciously when thanked for his service.
"I’m not in the army yet,” said Hatton. “But I don't want to disrespect what they are trying to say."
Sophomore business administration major Joshua Cole understands the public misperception of similarly uniformed cadets in ROTC versus soldiers.
"The average civilian doesn't know much about the military," said Cole, an ROTC cadet in the rigorous Ranger Challenge program. "They don't know if you are a veteran...or you are ROTC."
Lieutenant Colonel Mark Waters leads the Titan battalion. As a professor of military science, Waters said that above all he wants his cadets noticed and gratified for their citizenship and discipline. They should be well organized, mannerly, excellent students that have a calling to serve.
Sophomore Bible major Joel Wallace has served in the Army reserves for four years and was drawn to Biola because of the ROTC affiliations. He and the other cadets explain that the atmosphere at Biola has a more congruent culture and worldview foundation to the principles they learn in ROTC.
When in uniform at Biola, Wallace feels welcome.
"A lot of people at Biola especially see us and know we have put yourselves on the line for their freedom," he said.
LIFE OUT OF UNIFORM
When not in uniform, Wallace feels his professionalism blends with the character and creed expected by Biolans, especially compared to the accepted culture at other campuses such as CSUF.
"If you’re out and about at CSUF, we stand out because of the morals we have in the Army...even when you’re not in uniform. Other than class days, we try to stay out of our uniform," Wallace said. "It makes us an easy target if we are out in our uniforms. We try to stay away from wearing it all the time."
Lieutenant Waters recognizes the negative perception of servicemen or extreme viewpoints and limits the time cadets spend in uniform for these reasons.
“With what’s going on in the world right now, you never know what’s going on in someone’s head,” Waters said.
However, Southern Californians seem supportive of the sacrifices and duties of American armed forces, said Waters, who has served the U.S. Army around the world.
“I have fellow brothers running ROTC units at other universities that have run into occasional protests,” Waters said. “But not here.”
Biola graduates from last year who completed ROTC were commissioned into the U.S. Army with specialties such as nursing, army officer and medical services. Matthew Norman said he hopes to be placed in field artillery when he graduates in the spring. Steven Hatton aims to pursue a career in military intelligence. Joshua Cole looks to enter the military as an armor officer, and Joel Wallace would like to continue his service as a chaplain in active duty or the Army reserve.
"As soldiers we have this duty to serve. We do it whether or not we are being supported. It makes it a lot easier when people support us," said Norman.