As senior ROTC Cadet Erin McTarnaghan, a biomolecular science major,

sits down in the evening to work on an assignment, one thing is certain: she won’t be pulling an all-nighter. Doing so would mean two things: showing up to her 6 a.m. physical training session sluggish and unprepared, and letting down her fellow cadets.

“Everything we do in ROTC, we do as a team,” she says. “I wouldn’t ever want to show up and not give my all for them like they do for me.”

According to McTarnaghan, the team and “family-like” connection they share is what makes the ROTC program at Clarkson so unique. She explains, “Even our Cadre, the officers and non-commissioned officers who run the program, are dedicated above and beyond. We all really help each other out. The goal is not to have one or two superstars, but to have the class as a whole shine.”

Shine they do. In 2010, Washington Monthly ranked Clarkson’s Army and Air Force ROTC programs second in the nation, beating out 270 other colleges and universities with ROTC programs like Old Dominion, RPI, Notre Dame and Virginia Tech.

A Common Set of Values

The rankings are based on the size of the ROTC program in relation to the size of the entire student population. Clarkson’s ROTC programs, named the Golden Knight Battalion (Army) and Detachment 536 (Air Force), currently have 122 students enrolled from Clarkson and additional students from St. Lawrence University, SUNY Canton and SUNY Potsdam.

rotc_group1But for many of the cadets, there are more important reasons why the Clarkson program deserves such a high ranking, including the similarity in values between Clarkson and ROTC, the location and the leadership.

“To me, Clarkson and ROTC go hand in hand because they both start with a set of values, including integrity, service and teamwork,” says senior Cadet Charles Rugg. “We are expected to incorporate them into our daily lives as students, and then we take them a step further through ROTC.”

Army Battalion Commander Major Joseph Roller agrees. “Both the Army and Air Force flags are flown on our campus. This simple act sends a tremendous message about the military support that exists here at Clarkson,” he says. “The culture on campus allows the Cadre to effectively train cadets to become successful military leaders.”

Clarkson’s rural location near the Adirondacks also presents a matchless experience for cadets who have access to not one, but three training areas, including Back 40 trails and the rappel tower behind Clarkson’s campus, as well as Seven Springs and Stone Valley sites. According to Rugg, these are training sites “that other schools can only dream of.”

Leadership Training

Rugg and McTarnaghan also know a thing or two about leadership. As Cadet Battalion Commander, Rugg is responsible for setting the direction for the battalion for a semester, including training and mentoring. Similarly, McTarnaghan is the manager of the ROTC training system, where she manages both training evaluations and the junior class in their own leadership positions.

“ROTC is a cadet-run organization. To me, peer leadership can be the toughest aspect to learn, but we get to do it every day,” says Rugg. “That will really come in handy in the future for all of us.”

The ROTC program at Clarkson began in 1936 under University President James S. Thomas. He emphasized that ROTC was being offered for the benefit of the student, not simply for promoting the spirit of militarism, and stressed that membership was entirely elective. The first class boasted 60 ROTC cadets and the numbers grew significantly within the next few years, with around 75 percent of the class of 1937 enrolled and over 300 cadets in the program by 1940.

The current program is based in both coursework and fieldwork. During freshman and sophomore years, cadets enroll in a basic course, which focuses on a wide variety of topics such as time management, fitness, military traditions and history, squad tactics, drill and marching, leadership and first aid. Juniors and seniors enroll in an advanced course that zeros in on officer training, especially leadership tactics and military ethics.

Both Air Force and Army programs offer opportunities off campus for cadets to connect with the military as well. For example, cadets in the Air Force can take up to eight hours of free flight lessons at the Potsdam Airport, attend spring break trips to various Air Force bases around the country, participate in summer programs to earn their glider wings and airborne wings, and travel to overseas
Air Force bases at no cost.

Careers in the Armed Forces and Beyond

Today, the military pays 100 percent of the costs to attend Clarkson for most of its scholarship cadets, including tuition, fees and books, as well as a monthly stipend. Students can participate for the first two years with no obligation if they are not on scholarship. Once they contract, they receive the monthly stipend. Cadets like medical school hopeful Matthew Hadfield ’11 use the program to explore their options. “I joined ROTC because I really want to go to med school,” he says. “I thought that the skills and knowledge I would learn in ROTC would make me a better-rounded candidate when it came to applying.”

Success is a reality for all cadets, whether they are commissioned into their respective branches of the military or they go down a different path. For Air Force and Army cadets, every graduate is commissioned as a Second Lieutenant for active duty, outranking 80 percent of other military personnel. Many have gone on to specialty military schools, including the Air Force Institute of Technology and the Uniform Services University of Health Sciences.

And for some, the success of following in a family member’s footsteps is the cherry on top. Matthew Flynn ’13 is a perfect example.  “All of my life, I have wanted to serve in the armed forces as my father and grandfather have done,” he says. “However, going to college was also a top priority. ROTC has allowed me to accomplish both of these important goals.”