ROTC group aims to save ETSU program

Nathan Baker • Oct 22, 2013 at 9:38 PM

East Tennessee State University’s ROTC program may be endangered, but like its hundreds of past and present cadets, it won’t go down without a fight.

A group, led by ETSU Roan Scholars Leadership Program Director Scott Jeffress and his fellow ROTC alums, hopes to successfully wage a grassroots online campaign to convince Army leaders to reverse course and allow the 60-year-old program to remain active.

“A lot of the ROTC students, teachers and alumni feel it is a shortsighted decision, it doesn’t take into account our recent success in terms of where we’re going in commissioning cadets for the Army,” Jeffress, who served as chair and professor of Military Science at ETSU and led the Army ROTC program for five years, said Monday. “The thought is, we think the decision was based on old data, and it doesn’t account for a lot of things.”

A recent Wall Street Journal article quoted Army officials as saying the 13 ROTC programs targeted for closure were producing far fewer than the 15 officers each year expected under Defense Department rules and showed little prospect for growth.

But upon learning of the program’s scheduled shuttering, ETSU President Brian Noland said those criteria don’t fit the most recent commission rates.

The school graduated fewer than five cadets in 2011, but Noland said this year, 15 new officers will be commissioned and next year, 20 are expected to graduate.

“I cannot speak for the metrics, I cannot speak for the points that were included within their evaluation and analysis, but I can speak to the quality of our program,” Noland said in an Oct. 11 statement. “Our students are among the best of the best. Of the 54 cadets who are slated for commissioning and the 222 students who are part of the Military Science program, each of those students will be negatively and adversely affected by this shortsighted decision.”

With a website, Twitter and Facebook accounts and presence at upcoming events, ETSU ROTC advocates hope to preserve the program for those and future students.

“We want to make sure we’re doing our part to confirm for our leaders that a lot of folks are unhappy about this decision, and that it does have a significant impact,” Jeffress said. “We’re encouraging folks to let their elected officials know how they see it in terms of the impact, and let them know where they need to send their support for our program to the Army.”

Several local lawmakers, including U.S. Rep. Phil Roe and state Rep. Matthew Hill, have already said they intend to investigate and fight the Army’s decision.

But Jeffress said the Keep ETSU ROTC movement needs as many supporters as it can get to plead the case to others.

The programs’ advocates plan to visit veterans and school events to encourage others to join the fight.

“Certainly want to keep fighting until it’s clear there is no more opportunity to do that,” Jeffress said. “Dr. Noland’s and our intent is that if we continue to make this case to the right folks, we can delay it, turn it around or hopefully reverse it.”

The Army’s current plans are to terminate the program by August 2015.

The juniors and seniors currently enrolled in the program will have the opportunity to graduate on time, but the freshmen and sophomores will either have to transfer to an ROTC program at another school or can void their contracts without penalties, Noland said.

“There are a lot of students who are going to be affected by this, so we will have to be mindful of the appropriate time to make a decision, because there are windows of time to make if they’ve got application deadlines,” Jeffress said. “But we want to be clear that the university ROTC will do everything that we can do to take care of every cadet. Hopefully that means they can stay because the closure has been reversed, but we’ll do everything we can in the interim to help them transition if that’s what it comes to.”

To learn more about the scheduled termination of the program and the efforts to stop it, visit http://keepetsurotc.blogspot.com.

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