The Army should fix the geographical narrowness of its ROTC programs

The Army should fix the geographical narrowness of its ROTC programs

Here’s a comment related to yesterday’s item about those poor Army ROTC recruiters standing behind the table at Yale with their arms crossed.

By Stephen Trynosky
Best Defense guest recruiter

I don’t know your Year Group cohort, but I think you may not realize how narrow the ROTC’s geographic/outreach footprint has become since 1989 (e.g. closure of 4 of New Jersey’s 7 Army ROTC programs). Sadly, I have been taking on the "if they want it bad enough they will low crawl to ROTC" argument for almost two decades. I didn’t buy that argument as a first year ROTC cadet in 1994 and I buy it even less now.

The Army has allocated only a single Army ROTC instructor battalion to the entire state of Connecticut–which has one of the highest educational attainment levels in the United States and an enormous per capita student population. It is also noteworthy that Connecticut’s population is LARGER than Mississippi’s, over half the size of Alabama’s and FOUR TIMES LARGER than South Dakota’s. Despite its size and student population, Connecticut has just one Army ROTC battalion, while Mississippi has 5, Alabama has 10 and South Dakota has 3. It is misplaced to blame the Yale students for not seeking out Army ROTC — particularly when the program HQ and the Professor of Military Science (PMS) sit 70 miles away in Storrs. Sure, there is some instruction available in New Haven, but the core of the ROTC’s administrative, logistical and outreach capabilities in the state are 70 miles away from New Haven. This reality can not be discounted.

I challenge anyone to find a university comparable to Yale’s size south of the Mason-Dixon line that is 70 miles away from an Army ROTC host institution. 

Of course, this problem is not just applicable to the Army. When discussing the Navy ROTC and student propensity in Connecticut, it becomes a strictly academic debate, for the Navy has no ROTC program — anywhere — in Connecticut. Yalies and UCONN students alike can’t participate even if they want to.

It is essential to keep in mind that this outreach/access problem is much more than a discrete, Ivy League issue. Large swaths of America’s largest campuses lack any full-time ROTC outreach or instructional resources. The State University of New York (SUNY) system is the nation’s largest comprehensive university system with 64 campuses and more than 467,000 students. Exactly one of these 64 campuses (Brockport) is an Army ROTC host. Another (Plattsburgh) has a minimal ROTC cadre presence affiliated with the University of Vermont. The other 62 campuses are virtually untouched by Army officer outreach. Ditto for the City University of New York (CUNY) system — the nation’s 3rd largest public university system. CUNY, despite its size (larger than the University of Texas system!) lacks any ROTC host presence of any service. A student at Brooklyn College (~15,000 students) is 116 minutes away (one way) on mass transit from the ROTC host at St. John’s. Here we have a school with an undergraduate population about the size of Ole Miss that is almost TWO HOURS away from Army ROTC. How can we rationally blame the students in situations like these? You can’t join what you don’t even know about. How many hours in the past decade has the Army even spent, in-person recruiting for ROTC at Brooklyn College? In contrast, The Ole Miss website shows that the Army allocates 4 full-time officers and 3 full-time NCOs to ROTC instruction there. Even more incredibly, the Army has 7 full-time officers and 3 NCOs assigned to ROTC instructor duties at Valley Forge Military College — a 2 year military college — but not a single individual assigned full-time to the 2.5 million citizens of Brooklyn.

Finally, there is the perverse incentive structure for ROTC recruiting and the definition of "success." With very few exceptions (e.g. Norwich, VMI, Texas A&M and the Citadel), "success" for an Army ROTC battalion is defined as commissioning 15 Second Lieutenants (2LTs) a year. The PMS at UCONN who covers the entire state of CT, the PMS at St. John’s who covers 5 million New Yorkers in Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island; and the PMS at Columbus State all have the same definition of success – 15 2LTs. So, even though MS is smaller than CT and has far fewer college students, the Army, at baseline, expects at least 75 2LTs from MS a year. It expects 15 from CT. It expects roughly 30 a year from NYC even though it has a larger population than Virginia. By defining "success" so low, the Army has embraced a "soft bigotry of low expectations" (h/t George W. Bush). This is the outreach conundrum we face. As long as a PMS is making his numbers, he has almost no incentive for expanding outreach – no matter how insanely huge his catchment area is. Think about that one. We have 2 LTCs — one at Virginia Tech and one at UCONN. The LTC at Virginia Tech basically has to worry about visibility and outreach on a single campus with a few, small nearby schools like Radford. The LTC at UCONN may actually have less personnel resources than his peer at Virginia Tech, but he has the responsibility of ROTC recruiting/training/outreach for an entire state with over 3 million people, multiple media markets (NYC, Hartford and Providence) and dozens of colleges.

I’m sorry for this polemic, but I can’t say it any clearer. What will it take to convince the Army, as an institution, that it has a university outreach strategy irrationally aligned to the national student population?  

Stephen Trynosky is a Medical Service Corps officer in the Army Reserve. He previously served as an active duty officer in the US Army Medical Service Corps,- first with the 10th Mountain Division at Ft. Drum, NY, and later as an Army Health Professions Recruiter in New York City. The opinions expressed are the author’s alone and do not necessarily reflect those of the Department of the Army, the U.S. Army Reserve, nor indeed Manny Acta.