left a large gap in that history — one that has impacted both Yale and the military. As Warner Overhauser ’16 asked, “How many enlisted privates or seamen are from Ivy League universities or upper-class families? The answer goes without saying. And that hurts both the military as well as an institution such as Yale.” He elaborated, explaining that Yale suffers from a lack of informed on-campus debates on military issues while the armed forces suffer from a lack of well-educated recruits. The reestablished ROTC programs seek to correct for this. Ten Yale students have enrolled in the University’s NROTC program, in addition to the eight in AFROTC. Each of the students interviewed explained that the opportunity to serve the U.S. is the primary reason for his or her enrollment. From there, the motives for participation differ. Several students, including Eric Abney ’16, joined because of family histories of service. A half-hour after receiving an interview request from The Politic, the gentlemanly Texan arrived, eager to begin telling of his father’s experiences and his own. Seated in a plastic chair a bit too small for his large frame, he mentioned his grandfather who served in World War II, and his father, who, Abney said, “sent my grandma voice tapes while serving in Vietnam.” Abney’s father is writing down his memories of war to pass down to his son. He also intends to pass down a medallion of St. Christopher, known as the saint of travelers, that he wore in Vietnam—but only when Abney enters the fleet. Others joined because of the opportunity to engage with accomplished mentors. Overhauser recalled a conversation he had with General Stanley McChrystal, who was teaching a course at Yale. The general asked him why he chose Yale and NROTC. “Well, sir,” Overhauser responded, “without both Yale and NROTC, I wouldn’t be here talking with you.” In addition to interacting with mentors through the program, participants must exercise their own leadership skills. Andrew Hendricks ’14, the cadet wing commander of AFROTC, fulfills objectives laid out in his program’s “ginormous” handbook
by delegating tasks to about 35 cadets from the regional AFROTC consortium hosted at Yale. Hendricks has focused on preparing younger AFROTC cadets for summer field training by reviewing marching formations and helping with instruction. “It’s a great feeling to see something that you have spent a lot of time planning come to life,” he explained, “especially if it influences the development of those around you.” A desire for a “disciplined, organized, regulated lifestyle” attracts students like Beau Birdsall. Cadets at Yale live and breathe orderliness. When James Baker, Chief Judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, gave a guest lecture at the NROTC leadership lab, one cadet held a notebook and pen and the rest sat silently, hands folded and white hats removed.
“Service to our nation, and more particularly the military, has been a great tradition at Yale since her founding” The program is also intellectually rigorous. On top of completing their Yale majors and distribution requirements, students in both ROTC programs enroll in specific Yale courses designated by the military. They must complete five to seven hours of coursework per week for the program, including seminars, leadership labs, and physical training. Usually a class fulfills a requirement for either Yale or ROTC; Paul Kennedy’s “Military History of the West” is the first class in the country to count towards both ROTC and general academic requirements. For those in ROTC, hard work pays off. Students emerge from ROTC at Yale as broadly educated and capable military officers. Lieutenant Daniel Kohnen, nuclear power officer in the U.S. Navy and a naval science instructor at Yale, elaborates on the benefits of a Yale education with so much gusto that his smile is detectable even over the phone. He explains, “We’re able to take some concepts that we teach to the next level with the caliber of students
we teach here. When they become officers, ROTC participants will come prepared with both a liberal arts education and practical skills.” Upon graduation, Yale’s AFROTC students become second lieutenants, according to Colonel Manning. In addition to guaranteed employment after graduation, the program’s substantial scholarships make ROTC appealing to potential participants. Moreover, students benefit from the military’s guidance when assuming their first leadership positions: “There will be training, a career path will be laid out, there will be supervisors.” NROTC students, meanwhile, are commissioned as ensigns. Cohen appreciates how the program thrusts students into the practical world immediately after they leave college. “I can’t think of any other job where right out of college you have responsibility for 20-plus other people,” he said. “That seems to me like the best leadership training.” Interaction with civilians is vital to cadets’ leadership training. Captain Christopher Reinke of the U.S. Marine Corps, program adviser of naval science at Yale, observes that Yale students in ROTC who “wish to pursue a career in the military can more easily interact with their civilian counterparts.” He continued, “This interaction will lead to a more informed and educated student body as a whole so that when a midshipman or cadet enters the military, he will have a better understanding of what his nonmilitary college peers expect out of them. Conversely, the Yale grads that go off into the business world or private sector know a little bit more about the military and those that wear the uniform.” Gabrielle Fong ’16 says that many of her classmates have asked her about the Navy and the military in general. “Because of that, I’ve been able to share my motivations for joining the military and the positive things it has to offer,” she explains. Students often see their peers in ROTC in a completely new light when they don military uniforms. Abney recounted entering a classroom without receiving a single glance of recognition from fellow students because his white cap was covering his distinctive strawberry-blond hair.
Published on Jun 2, 2013