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ETSU, legislators intend to fight Army decision to end school ROTC program

Rex Barber • Oct 3, 2013 at 5:52 PM

Colin Rose came to East Tennessee State University to study medicine because of the Army ROTC program there, but he may have to find another school if he wants to get that commission as a second lieutenant, he found out Thursday.

“Honestly, I’m pretty bummed out,” he said. “I came here for the ROTC program, specifically for it. I mean, that’s the only reason I came to ETSU over UT and places like that.”

Rose is a freshman who intends to pursue a degree in medicine. He is one of the sophomore and freshmen cadets in ETSU’s Army ROTC program who will most likely have to find another school to attend if they want to receive commissions in the service after 2015.

University President Brian Noland announced Thursday that the Army intends to end the 60-plus year program and 12 others across the nation by August 2015.

“Other places have medical programs and stuff that I can go to but they don’t have ROTC programs of this caliber,” Rose said. “If we can’t save this program, not really sure what I’m going to do or where I’m going to go.”

According to the Army, junior and senior cadets will have the opportunity to complete their service and get their commissions and degrees from ETSU. Sophomores and freshmen will be able to transfer to another university with ROTC programs.

Noland got a call Wednesday from the Army saying the ETSU program was going to be ended. An official letter explaining this arrived to the school Thursday from the secretary of the Army. This letter said more details would be coming around the time of the transition. No other details were available, Noland said in a quickly called news conference Thursday afternoon to explain the situation.

The ROTC programs selected for closure were:

University of South Dakota, Northern Michigan University, North Dakota State University, University of Wisconsin--La Crosse, Arkansas State University, University of Tennessee at Martin, University of North Alabama, Georgia Regents (Augusta State) University, University of Southern Mississippi, East Tennessee State University, Morehead State University, Tennessee Technological University, University of California--Santa Barbara.

Congressman Phil Roe was aware of the possibility of the closure of the program for about six weeks, he said. He informed Noland and since that time Noland has been working to inform people about the quality of the program, which includes a recent notable performance at the prestigious Sandhurst Competition held in April at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.

Cadets competing in this competition placed among the top teams in an event that involved a hike, the donning of gas masks and the assembly of five weapons that had been dismantled and heaped in a pile.

Roe said a lack of graduates from the program was cited as a reason for the closure of the program, but said no one ever came to campus to evaluate the ROTC cadets.

He plans to take the lead on arguing for the Army to keep this program as well as other programs. He will include the staffs of senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, if not the senators themselves.

“As Yogi Bera said, ‘It ain’t over till it’s over.’ And although they (the Army) said there’s no appeal here, I disagree with that. It’s worth fighting for and we’re going to do that.”

State Rep. Matthew Hill said in an emailed statement that he supported Roe in fighting the decision to close the ETSU program and called that decision “wrong.”

“Our region has a long and storied tradition of supporting this initiative for our young people, and to simply do away with the ROTC program is ill-conceived and irresponsible,” Hill said in the email. “The long-term effects of such a cut would be far reaching for our community, displacing not only the dozens of students currently enrolled, but also completely ignoring the time, energy, and money each family has spent supporting their child in the ROTC program itself. There is absolutely no valid reason for this decision as enrollment in the ROTC program is the strongest it has been in 25 years at ETSU.”

There are 54 cadets in the ETSU ROTC program and 222 students in the military science program.

Noland wants to see all the reasons used to make the decision to end the ETSU program.

Much of the decision was indeed based on the commissioning of officers, Noland said. In 2011, the school graduated fewer than five cadets. But this year the program is positioned to graduate 15 cadets. Next year there should be 20 cadets who graduate.

But there were other criteria too for this decision.

“I’ve not seen the criteria,” he said. “And that’s one of the questions that I have, is what were the data points in which you made this decision to adversely impact East Tennessee State University.”

Noland hopes to be able to highlight the “caliber of excellence” of the ETSU ROTC program through the efforts led by Roe.

“We’ve positioned the cadet corps for growth. We’ve grown the cadet corps. (We have) the largest class this fall in a long time.

“So between now and (2015) we’re going to work in a coordinative capacity with Congressman Roe, with Sen. Alexander and Sen. Corker to make our case. That work begins today.”

The ETSU ROTC program has been around for more than 60 years. More than 1,400 soldiers have received commissions from ETSU in that time. Noland highlighted a few, including nine generals. One person was Maj. Gen. Gary Harrell who served in Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm. He also commanded 20,000 personnel in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Gen. Ronald Height, who was the first commander of the Army’s combat systems test activity at the Aberdeen proving ground in Maryland.

Ten ETSU ROTC graduates have died while in the service.

“We have some of the best young students in the nation at East Tennessee State University,” Noland said. “This past spring, 30 percent of our cadets were named to the dean’s list. Thirty percent. And 60 percent of our cadets earn a GPA of 3.3 or higher. Our cadets are active and involved around campus. They assume leadership roles. They give selflessly to this institution and to each other.”

He could not be more proud of these cadets and their leaders both here and at the affiliated program at the University of Virginia at Wise.

“We are here to ensure that our students walk across the stage and receive degrees,” Noland said. “And despite what the Army says, not only are our cadets juniors and seniors going to receive their degrees from ETSU, when we compete against other programs we’re going to knock those other programs into the ditch.”

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