Features

Training Mission

ROTC cadets take Seattle U’s mission to serve to heart—and then out into the world

by Mike Thee

2009_summer_rotc_main

After days of strenuous training, SU cadets finally get a chance to relax and take in the view while flying on a CH-47 Chinook helicopter from Fort Lewis, Wash., to Seattle’s Boeing Field.

Photo by Chris Joseph Taylor


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It sure seemed like the real thing—down to the fatigues, the face paint, the weaponry, the Stryker vehicle and the CH-47 Chinook helicopter. They crawled through bushes, hid behind trees and surrounded buildings believed to be under enemy control. They knocked out bunkers and conducted point ambushes. But it was just a test. Or, more to the point, it was preparation for the test.

For a full weekend in April, cadets in Seattle University’s ROTC program descended on Fort Lewis, Wash., to participate in an intensive exercise that helps get them ready for a key moment in their journey toward becoming commissioned military officers in the United States Army. The focal point of the exercise was to prepare SU’s cadets for the Leadership Development Assessment Course (LDAC), which they are required to take the summer after their junior year.

The 30-day LDAC, which takes place in July, assesses the cadets’ performance in land navigation, marksmanship, physical fitness and leadership. The test is key to determining whether a cadet will be assigned to active duty or reserves, and in what branch and what post. While a cadet’s grade point average is the most critical factor in the complex equation, the LDAC matters a great deal. “I look at the LDAC as kind of the capstone experience for our cadets,” says Lt. Col. Eric Farquharson, chair of SU’s military science department.

Since the end of the Cold War, the Army has been reshaping its operations to meet the new threats of a more asymmetric world. For ROTC cadets, the changes are primarily reflected in the instruction and theory they receive in the classroom. There have also been some additions to the LDAC that challenge cadets to deal with such scenarios as improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

“What has not changed,” Farquharson says about the LDAC, “is the focus on basic squad level tactics as a tool for evaluating leadership potential.”

Another constant is Seattle University’s performance on the test. As a group, SU cadets have a history of scoring highly on the LDAC. Nationally, they consistently rank in the top 10 percentile. (In 2006, SU’s program was ranked ninth out of 272 programs nationwide).

During a field exercise, senior cadet Ray Kim (center) leads his squad through thick brush for about a mile. For the exercise, the team had to come up with a plan to ambush the “enemy.”

Photo by Chris Joseph Taylor

The ROTC program’s success on the LDAC is yet another indication of its impressive track record of forming leaders for our nation’s military. Since its inception in 1951, SU’s ROTC program has produced such luminaries as Maj. Gen. (Retired) Patrick Brady, '59, who received 70 medals and awards for service, including the highest award, the Medal of Honor for gallantry in Vietnam and Maj. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, ’72, who as vice chief of staff is one of the highest placed officers in the United States Army.

So what’s the secret? Why is it that SU’s cadets perform so well in the ROTC and that so many of them go on to serve their country as leaders of distinction? Could it have anything to do with the institution’s values?

LTC Farquharson thinks so. Before coming to SU in 2007, he was at an ROTC program at a modestly sized private university on the East Coast. While he sees many similarities between the two schools, he says, “I think there’s something special about these small Jesuit schools, with their emphasis on critical thinking and their focus on service. They produce good officers. There’s more focus here at SU on service learning and community engagement.”

SU President Stephen Sundborg, S.J., also sees congruence between the university’s mission and that of ROTC. He says one of his highlights each year is taking part in the commissioning ceremony held during Commencement weekend for graduating ROTC cadets. “I wish every graduating student attended the ceremony in order to witness the dedication evident there,” he says. “It’s like a double degree in leadership: SU and ROTC.”

Perhaps the best indication that SU’s mission is permeating throughout the ROTC program comes from the cadets themselves, such as Shasta Lewis, ’10, who is majoring in English literature. “I decided to join ROTC because I wanted to give back to a larger community, in this case my country,” she says. “The ROTC program has really given me the chance to grow into a more whole and well-rounded individual because of the leadership training that we receive.”

This year, Lewis co-directed Seattle University’s Dance Marathon to raise money for Seattle Children’s Hospital, an initiative the ROTC program has been very involved with since it began two years ago. “ROTC has given me that confidence to lead people for this amazing cause,” she says.

Lewis is one of the cadets taking the LDAC in July. So is Jesse David, ’10, a philosophy major and incoming president of the Associated Students of Seattle University. He says he was drawn to the ROTC program because of “the cadre and cadets seemed to genuinely care about the people in the program … SU ROTC has a sense of family that I did not pick up at any other ROTC program.”

Still, some question whether an ROTC program has any place on a Jesuit Catholic campus. To critics Farquharson responds by saying, “The Constitution clearly states that the government must provide for the common defense of the nation. Wouldn’t you want to have a role in forming leaders for the military? Isn’t it good that someone like the vice chief of the United States Army was inculcated with Seattle University’s core values?”

And with the United States government’s military commitments showing no signs of diminishing, Farquharson sees as great a need as ever for an ROTC program like SU’s and the leaders it forms.

Leaders such as David, who says, “Soon I am going to be an officer in the United States Army and I am grateful that I have had an education that has taught me about the good things our nation has done, but also the bad. I think that the lessons I have learned here at SU will serve me well in my military career.”

Check out a photo and audio slideshow from the training exercise »

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