Want To 'Play In The Mud'?

When she's not studying inside the walls of Cornell University, you'll find incoming sophomore Monica Meeks rappelling down them. A member of the Army Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC), the aspiring helicopter pilot signed up for three reasons: the challenge, the scholarship and because she gets to "play around in the mud."

Meeks has a lot of company. A guaranteed postgraduation paycheck, 9-11 and aggressive recruitment are sparking a resurgence of Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps ROTC programs. The Army program's enrollment is up 3.4 percent since the 2001-02 academic year; Navy ROTC, which includes the Marine Corps, enrolled 4 percent more, and the Air Force rocketed up 22 percent.

Most of the country's 600 or so sponsoring universities train roughly 100 cadets per semester. They live and study with civilian students, aside from about four hours a week devoted to leadership and physical fitness; war games consume one weekend each month. Many earn full or partial scholarships--up to $20,000 per year based on merit. But after sophomore year, students have to make a decision. If they don't commit to eight postgraduate years of military service--four active-duty and four on reserve or National Guard status--they're out of the program.

Relations between students and ROTC cadets haven't always been trouble-free. During the Vietnam War, several schools, including Harvard, kicked the program off campus in response to antimilitary protests. Students staged sit-ins, trashed buildings and attacked cadets. To this day, only Dartmouth and Cornell, among the Ivy League schools, still host on-campus programs for all three branches. (Other Ivies have one or two ROTC programs.) Since 9-11, cadets have been getting more student support. "People really look up to you more," says junior Tommy Bramanti, an Army cadet at Notre Dame.

That's good for morale. But ROTC training isn't just about preparing for a possible military career. Meeks already sees the connection between ROTC and her major in hotel management. "Lieutenants," she says, "are managers." But can they cook, too?

Want To 'Play In The Mud'? | News