Student focus: In the ROTC

Students in this program come out of CMU with not only a degree, but a commission too

The ROTC (Reserve Officers? Training Corps) is part of the college curriculum for 49 students at Carnegie Mellon. Through classes and training, students learn firsthand what it takes to lead others, motivate groups, and conduct missions. The Tartan spoke with first-year ROTC member Mark Capansky about his experiences with the program.

Tartan: I think that everyone gets those ROTC letters in the mail. Why did you choose to respond to it and do the ROTC program?

Capansky: I think that serving America is the right thing to do, and I wanted to be in the military. I know it?s kind of a stock answer, but I really believe that. I feel that I?ve been given a lot of privileges, and I feel like I have a responsibility to pay them back. I always wanted to have an exciting career and this will help me accomplish that.

Tartan: So, what is the most stressful thing about the ROTC? Is it hard to manage your time?

Capansky: It?s certainly stressful waking up early, but it?s something you can deal with. When you?re a first-semester freshman, it?s easy to screw up. You get things called ?write-ups.? If you get a lot of write-ups you can get into trouble. It only gets more stressful because as you get older, you get put in charge of more people. If they mess up, it?s your fault regardless of the situation.

Tartan: Write-ups? How exactly do you get those?

Capansky: By doing things like showing up late to Physical Training, or not showing proper respect to a superior. Five or six write-ups can potentially mess up your ROTC career and just give you a bad reputation. But, they don?t ask for more than we can do. You just have to pay attention.

Tartan: It sounds like there?s a lot more to being in the ROTC than the average student knows. What does it entail?

Capansky: When you first join up in your freshman year, you come a little bit early in the summer. You go to orientation where you go learning about military life. For example, they teach you how to salute.
Once you get to school, you have Physical Training (PT). We meet in Skibo gym and do a fairly intense workout. Workouts start at 5:45 in the morning and we?re usually done by 7:15 or 7:30 by the latest. We also have lab on Thursday mornings (6:45 am) where we?ll get some kind of presentation on military life. And we also take military classes on military knowledge and history.

There?s a lot of other outside events that the ROTC does. Other people will join the Drill Team, where we march around and take part in competitions. I?m in the Color Guard, which presents the U.S. flag at special events. Also, there is a big event in the summer when you spend a month on ?Summer Cruise.? You live on a base and you?ll go to different ones depending on whichever warfare community you are in.

Tartan: Okay, so the burning question: Why do you wear your uniforms to class?

Capansky: Well, once you get into the military, you?ll be wearing uniforms every day for a while. You might as well get used to it while you?re in college. It gives us a sense of preparation. We?re going to be on active duty after college for four years. The actual requirement is four years of active duty and four years of inactive duty. We can be told that we are going to go back into active duty at any point during the inactive duty, depending on the needs of the country. Aviators need to spend all eight years in active duty. It?s because so much money goes into training aviators that they want to get the full value of it.

Tartan: That doesn?t sound like it?d be the most popular program. Is it?

Capansky: Everyone watches Top Gun, so they want to be like that. CMU is actually most well known for sending people into the submarine warfare program. You need to be extremely smart to be a sub officer.

Tartan: Really? Is that what you?re planning to do?

Capansky: No. Right now I?m in the Navy, but I?m thinking about switching into the Marines.

Tartan: Do you have a greatest fear about being in the ROTC?

Capansky: We?re so far detached from everything going on in the outside world that I can?t say I?m afraid of getting called up. But in any case, that?s what we?re here to do. I truly believe that anyone in the ROTC would proudly go. There?s the potential that anyone, except for the freshmen, can be enlisted at any time. That?s very unlikely, but I have no doubt that everyone here would proudly go.

Tartan: That?s really honorable. But, on a lighter topic, what is the strangest rule in the ROTC?

Capansky: Um, there?re some screwy ones. It seems that you can never be early enough. No matter how early you think you are. Also, if we see an ROTC student of higher ranking we?ll still call him ?Sir,? even if we just see him in the street. That?s not that weird, really, but different.

Tartan: I?ve often seen ROTC people marching in tandem. Do you practice how to walk in step like that often?

Capansky: Usually you learn that your first semester of your freshman year, once or twice a week. You?ll practice more if you?re on the drill team.

Tartan: What about the slackers? Is there anything people do that can get them kicked out?

Capansky: There?s something called being ?uncommisionable.? If you physically can?t become an officer, they?ll ask you to leave the program. It?s not that program is being mean, it?s just that you aren?t able to be in it, so there?s no reason for the government to be paying you anymore. For example: asthma. What if you?re in a stressful situation that brings on an attack? It?s things like that. There?s also ?honor code infractions.? We?re all under an honor code; if someone breaks that, it?s possible that we can be told to leave the program.

Tartan: What about the money? Do you get paid for being in the ROTC?

Capansky: If you become a scholarship student, you get full tuition paid and you get a monthly stipend. The stipend is 250 dollars monthly in your freshman year and then it increases.