ETSU on losing ROTC program: 'They're more than just students' - WRBL

ETSU on losing ROTC program: 'They're more than just students'

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East Tennessee State University's President Dr. Brian Noland announced Thursday afternoon that the school's ROTC program is among 13 in the nation to close

The decision is expected to potentially impact hundreds of students.

"It's a loss of part of your soul," ETSU President Dr. Brian Noland said. "ROTC is part of the fabric of this university. I've had a chance to train with our cadets. They're more than students or cadets. These young men and women are leaders across campus."

According to Dr. Noland, juniors and seniors will be able to graduate at ETSU. However, unless freshman and sophomores cram in extra classes to graduate early, they will more than likely have to transfer to another school. University of Tennessee at Knoxville, Virginia Tech University and Appalachian State University are the nearest ROTC programs.

"There's really no words that you can describe it with," ETSU junior and ROTC Cadet Jonathan Shackleford said. "We are a family and it's a separation, a forced separation."

The uncertainty comes as a concern to ETSU sophomore and ROTC Cadet Morgan Smith. She says she is cramming in all of her classes so she doesn't have to transfer and can say where her heart is.

"I'm not playing that card right now," Smith said of the option to transfer. "This is where I want to be."

Congressman Phil Roe says he and Tennessee's Congressional delegation are working together to try and stop the closure. After all, three of the programs that the Army intends to close are in Tennessee.

According to Rep. Roe, he first began hearing rumors back in the middle of August about the possibility of the Army closing ETSU's ROTC program. In the weeks since, he's sent a letter to the Secretary of the Army and says he made his case for saving the program to the U.S. Army Cadet Commanding General.

"We're going to fight as hard as we can and we've already started as a delegation," Congressman Roe said. "We're going to sit down and see what we can do to continue this program."

If ETSU's program disappears, the nearest ROTC programs will be at Appalachian State University, Virginia Tech University and University of Tennessee at Knoxville.

"I said, 'Look General, it's 100 miles from Johnson City, Tennessee to Knoxville, it's not a short trip,'" Rep. Roe recalled.

Considering ETSU has graduated more than 1,400 officers in its 60 year history, including several generals, Rep. Roe says the Army needs to reconsider.

"I'm incredibly disappointed, because we have produced some real heroes at ETSU," Rep. Roe said. "We're certainly going to do everything we can on our end to prevent this from happening, because I think it's a huge mistake the military's making."

Congressman Roe's office says state legislators will also help with efforts to convince the Army to change its mind. A spokesperson says Sen. Rusty Crowe (R- Johnson City), Rep. Tony Shipley (R-Kingsport) and Rep. Micah Van Huss (R- Jonesborough) are all working toward the same cause.

"To date we've been informing people about the quality of the program, we've been personally visiting with people, letting them know how good we are," Dr. Noland said of the effort. "Despite what the Army says, not only are our cadets, juniors and seniors, going to receive their degrees from ETSU, when we compete against other programs we're going to knock those other programs in the ditch."

The following is a press release from ETSU: 

JOHNSON CITY – East Tennessee State University learned this week that its Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) program is one of 13 programs across the nation being closed by the U.S. Army.

The decision to close the programs was made by the Secretary of the Army, based on a recommendation by the U.S. Army Cadet Command. The phase-out plan will begin immediately and is expected to be completed by August 2015.

ETSU is one of three schools in Tennessee on the list of programs being closed.

The ETSU ROTC program, which falls under the auspices of the ETSU College of Business and Technology, includes 54 Cadets who are on contract with the U.S. Army. Approximately 222 ETSU students are enrolled in military science programs.

"We are devastated," said ETSU President Dr. Brian Noland. "We feel this decision is an injustice to our students, to our graduates, and to the outstanding men and women who have led this program since it was founded in 1952."

According to Noland, one of the reasons the Army gave for closing the university's ROTC program was based on concerns about the number of officers being commissioned from ETSU.

"This decision is based on outdated metrics," he said. "Our program at ETSU commissioned 15 officers in 2013, and we expect to produce comparable numbers for the upcoming year. Looking ahead to 2015, we expect to commission 25 or more officers with our current junior class.

"Our ROTC enrollment is the largest it has been in the past 25 years."

According to information from the U.S. Army, current juniors and seniors in the program will be able to graduate as officers from ETSU. Current freshmen and sophomores will have the option of transferring to another university ROTC program, or request to have the contract with the Army voided.

Though the ROTC program at ETSU is funded by the U.S. Army, Noland said ETSU provides significant financial support for the program through scholarships, staffing, housing assistance, equipment purchases, facility renovations, and travel support.

In addition, the university recently made significant improvements to the Veterans Memorial Lawn in front of Brooks Gymnasium, which houses the ROTC program. "This project further showcases our ROTC program and facilities, which are located at the heart of our campus," Noland said.

Since the program's inception at ETSU, the university has commissioned more than 1,400 officers, including nine general officers. The U.S. Army Cadet Command has recognized two recent ETSU graduates with the Pallas Athene Award, which honors the top female cadets in the eastern United States.

Noland added that 10 Buc Battalion alumni have sacrificed their lives during active service.

Earlier this year, the ETSU ROTC's Ranger Challenge Team traveled to West Point, N.Y., to compete in the annual international Sandhurst Competition. The ETSU team was one of only eight teams in the nation invited to compete, earning that spot after placing first at the 7th Brigade Championship held in Fort Knox, Ky.

The ETSU ROTC Cadets have also performed well in numerous regional competitions in recent years, Noland added.

"We will continue to engage in efforts to vigorously protect and maintain our storied ROTC program at ETSU," he said.

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