Behind the Uniforms: Inside Marist College’s ROTC Program
Cadets of Marist College’s Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) Program can be identified by their camouflage uniforms. But behind those uniforms are individual students who have committed to a singular goal - becoming their best selves.
The United States Army created the ROTC program in 1916 after President Woodrow Wilson signed the National Defense Act. The program currently has over 20,000 cadets enrolled, with a total of 273 host programs with more than 1,100 partnership and affiliate schools across the country.
Marist officially joined Fordham University’s Ram Battalion in 2005 as part of Charlie Company, which includes Vassar College, SUNY New Paltz and Mount Saint Mary College.
Upon graduation, ROTC cadets commission into the Army and serve as second lieutenants in either the U.S. Army Reserve, National Guard or as Active Duty Officers.
Marist’s program has grown exponentially since its inception. According to ROTC Staff Assistant Dave Rogers, the program now consists of about 30 to 40 cadets per year. Initially, only about two or three cadets were commissioned into the military per year. Now, the program will commission about eight. There have been more than 50 total commissioned officers.
“Since I came here in 2015 the program has only gotten better,” said junior Dom Fortino. “We want to continue that trend after I commission next year.”
Rogers brings 28 years of service experience to the cadets of Marist. Overseas, Rogers served in Germany, Korea, three combat tours in Afghanistan, and one combat tour in Iraq. Stateside, he was stationed in New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Kentucky.
He served as a non-commissioned officer (NCO), which work directly with commissioned officers.
“They’re going to be the future leaders, and they have to work so closely with the Sergeants under them,” said Rogers. “We actually become a team - Platoon Leader and Platoon Sergeant.”
Although prospective students may find ROTC intimidating, Fortino stated that both Rogers and cadet leadership were extremely helpful in answering all of his questions. Ultimately, Fortino has found ROTC to be an extremely fulfilling experience.
“I’ve always been the type of person to challenge myself both physically and mentally, and I’ve always wanted to make a difference in someone’s life,” said Fortino. “I don’t want to be remembered for the things I’ve accomplished, I want to be remembered for helping other people.”
A common misconception with ROTC is that members are required to commission. Cadets are only required to commission if they receive an Army ROTC scholarship or enter the Army ROTC Advanced Course. Enrolling in the Army ROTC Basic Course does not involve a commitment of service.
The Army provides full tuition and fee scholarships for members of ROTC. Marist also waives room and board for each whole year in conjunction with the Army ROTC scholarship.
Training for cadets includes three days a week of physical training, revolving around the Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT). Additionally, there are weekly leadership labs and military classroom sessions. Cadets receive developmental counseling every semester, covering the areas that each cadet is doing well in and areas where they can improve.
Cadet responsibilities increase as they advance through the program. Juniors and seniors in ROTC can take Adaptive Leadership and Advanced Leadership as a military science class under Marist’s School of Management.
Summer training opportunities are often presented to ROTC members. Fortino went to West Point for cadet Field Training (CFT) to train with West Point cadets - an experience which he described as “unforgettable.”
Marist is located about an hour away from the prestigious U.S. military academy at West Point. However, these two institutions offer very different experiences for cadets.
“Marist has a wonderful relationship with West Point. Many of our teachers or their spouses are former West Point cadets,” said Rogers. “It’s a great program, but at the end of the line this May when we commission everybody, it’s the same colored gold bar. Both are going to be new Lieutenants in the Army. It’s not proven that academy graduates make General faster than anyone else - they’re about the same rate.”
Both Fortino and sophomore Ian Olson applied to West Point, a testament to the individuals Marist ROTC encompasses.
“At West Point, you really don’t have much say in what you can do. They pretty much structure your day from when you wake up to when you go to sleep,” said Fortino. “With ROTC, you have a lot more freedom.”
“If you want to be successful as an enlisted soldier or a commissioned officer, I think one of the most important attributes is effective communication, and I feel that comes from social development,” Fortino added. “I think going to a civilian college with ROTC experience teaches me time management and how to communicate with people, including people outside of ROTC.”
“In hindsight, if you’re not going to get into [West Point], you’ll get the full college experience here,” said Olson. “There are a lot of opportunities here that you wouldn’t get at a regimented school like West Point.”
The experiences and knowledge gained through ROTC extends far beyond life in the military, pushing cadets to maximize their physical and mental potential and achieve goals they previously thought were impossible.
“You’re here to develop. Everyone can improve on something,” said Fortino. “There’s no perfect leader, but there are good leaders, and that’s what we're trying to be.”
“Freshman year I came in with essentially no leadership experience,” Fortino added. “ROTC taught me how to work with people, rather than just working on myself.”
Following completion of his service, Fortino is hoping to attain advanced degrees in national security and emergency management. His goal is to work with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) or the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), an agency of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
“When we come out, we’re looking for civilian careers as well, so we’re developing leaders,” said Olson. “We can run companies, be CEOs or CFOs, and so on. We’re giving people the qualities to be virtually whatever they want to be in the civilian world.”
Olson’s short-term goal is commission. However, as a marketing major he is undecided as to whether he’ll continue a career in the military or pursue a career in business, following his required service.
Aside from military and career interests, both Fortino and Olson have formed unbreakable bonds with their fellow cadets.
“Your best friends are people that you share experiences day in and day out with,” said Fortino. “I realized that I’m not perfect, and nobody’s perfect, but if you surround yourself with people that are encouraging and motivating, you’ll automatically become a better person.”
“The people you’ll find here are the captains of their sports teams in high school, devoted to their community, head of student government or top of their class,” added Olson. “That’s the kind of people we recruit here, because that’s the kind of people you want leading the military.”