The US Army: What Does It Take to Become an Officer-and Succeed?
The US Army is not only the world’s finest army. it is also one of the leading supporters of higher education in our country. An educated officer corps make our army stronger, and former officers are quite valued for their leadership skills. Military training, whether it comes through Army ROTC or a service academy, is quite respected in the business world.
No matter how you may feel about politics and war, thank these men and women for their service. They made commitments that many of us, myself included, would not. I first thought about this over a decade ago, when I worked on a novel, Defending College Heights. I wrote that story because I was curious to know: what would happen if a US. Army recruiter was murdered? That’s never happened during any of the wars that have been in the news in my lifetime.
While I did not serve, my father earned his bachelors degrees in Chemical Engineering through Army ROTC. Back then there were neither Federal grants nor student loans to help a family cover college costs. Had my father not entered college after high school through ROTC, he would have been drafted. An Army ROTC scholarship made it possible for him to complete his degree, then serve as an officer and an engineer.
How many people get this opportunity today?
Over 70 years after my father earned his degree, nearly 2,000 Army ROTC scholarships, covering tuition and fees and other benefits, were awarded to college freshmen and rising sophomores this fall. This was in addition to the 1,300 first-year cadets who entered West Point, the United States Military Academy. Clearly the US. Army knows that the training and culture are not for everyone. But over 80 percent of the first-year students who enter West Point are likely to graduate four years later. ROTC graduates are also more likely to finish their degrees. They have the discipline—and the incentive—to do so.
West Point and ROTC have different academic paths to a commission
You’re exposed to the military life 24/7 at West Point, and your grades help determine your first assignment. The first two academic years at West Point, outside of military training, are in electrical engineering. Make it through that curriculum and you choose from a set of majors “carefully designed to meet the needs of the Army for “officer-leaders of character to serve the Army and the Nation.” But West Point offers a much smaller choice of majors and minors than you’ll find at conventional large and mid-sized colleges.
If you receive an Army ROTC scholarship, you can choose any major you want that is offered by the college you choose. However, the Army also recruits future officers with an eye towards finding talent to fill its needs. “Our mission in Army ROTC was to commission 12 second lieutenants each year,” says Liz Agather. a former professor of Military Science at UNC-Chapel Hill, founder of Agather College Consulting based in Raleigh, North Carolina. “But two of them had to be nurses. A nursing student could lose a scholarship if she changed majors.” Liz served her country for 20 years. She earned her degree from the University of Virginia on an Army ROTC Scholarship, retiring with the rank of Lt. Colonel.
Who has what it takes to succeed as a US Army officer?
While the benefits of attending a service academy or receiving an ROTC scholarship are tremendous, it takes a certain type of person to succeed in the Army,” Liz says. “People who over analyze, constantly question orders, or have a difficult time with stress will struggle. Military training is about learning to lead for the greater good, for the betterment of the service.” In one sense the US Army is no different from the entry-level job market. You are asked to perform tasks that on the surface seem mundane. But in the US Army you don’t ask why—especially in front of a superior officer.
An officer is expected to juggle many responsibilities. My father was posted as an officer and an engineer in the US Army Chemical Corps, then based in Ft. Collins, Colorado. But he was also the officer responsible for picking up the payroll from the Denver Mint. He had to make sure that all of the enlisted personnel were paid on time. No doubt the Army expected my father to do every job properly and professionally. And I’m sure that his superiors were more patient with his learning curve in chemical engineering than they would be if mistakes were found in the payroll!
Military officers must be strong leaders and followers. They have to listen and to communicate upward as well as downward. An officer will be evaluated for promotion earlier than in other fields. Entry-level managers or professional begin their career with few expectations to lead. But an officer’s ability to lead will be the difference between success or failure in a military operation. It might also mean losses of lives.
How can high school students prepare for the journey?
High school students who are serious about military service should take advantage of opportunities to lead. Leadership skills can be developed through athletics, student government, summer jobs or work after school, churches, community service and more. Those who compete and gain admission to the service academies or receive ROTC scholarships are scholar-athletes-leaders.
When I think about what it takes to succeed in the Army, I can see why the numbers who qualify for West Point and ROTC scholarships are small. Not everyone can earn excellent grades, prep for standardized tests, stay fit and healthy, lead and earn respect. Most of us need college to teach us how to lead and work with others. The US Army asks for more at the start.
Want to know more about me? Check out these podcasts!
Listen to my talk, College Is A Learning AND Living Community, hosted by Dr. Cynthia Colon from Destination YOUniversity on Voice of America Radio!
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