The Life of a Cadet

“The nation that makes a great distinction between its scholars and its warriors will have its thinking done by cowards and its fighting done by fools.”
—Thucydides, Greek historian

Every morning at 0600 hours, under a silhouetted canopy of trees set against the lightening hue of a navy blue-painted sky, a dozen cadets from the UCI ROTC Club meet for one hour of intense cardiovascular and muscular-strength and endurance physical training. The early morning barrage of pushups, sit-ups and other physical activities are just a portion of the “Cadet Life” experience. At UCI, the cadets are also learning to hurdle a complex web of bureaucratic policies intended to keep their program unrecognized. And while there are over 1,100 American schools and institutions officially participating in ROTC, UC Irvine is not one of them.

The Reserve Officers’ Training Corps is a collegiate educational program that readies student cadets for a commission in the United States Military. Cadets’ elective classes and lectures, labs and field training exercises focus on leadership development, problem solving, strategic planning and professional ethics. Since 1920, it is estimated that over 500,000 officers have graduated from ROTC, and as of 2009, 60 percent of the Army’s newly commissioned Lieutenants came from the program.

With a campus population reaching more than 27,000, UCI ROTC is one of the smallest clubs on campus — it has just over 20 cadets. But Delta Company Commander, Cadet John Wisenbaker, and current Platoon Sergeant, Cadet Christian Peralta, do not complain. With the resolve and drive of hardened veterans, Cadets Wisenbaker and Peralta, among others, have spearheaded the effort to get ROTC officially recognized on campus. They have support from Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs, Manuel Gomez, as well as numerous faculty.

In fact, UCI has the staff, instructors and office space to accommodate the program, and on  April 13, 2010, the Legislative Council of ASUCI voted 14-0-1 to encourage the Academic Senate to approve the proposal for a Military Science Program under the School of Social Ecology.

However, even if approved, it could take years for the program to be completed.

Currently, the University of Southern California ROTC program sponsors UCI cadets, instructors and officials from USC and CSULB administer the required lectures and labs. These classes, which cadets pay for out-of-pocket, do not count on their UCI transcripts, and are in addition to the full-time classes they take at UCI.

“When I was a cadet my freshman and sophomore years, I had to travel all the way to CSULB to take a two-hour military history course,” says Wisenbaker, a fourth-year economics major. “That’s a huge burden because it took time from studying on campus for my UCI classes.”

Cadet Peralta, a third-year criminology, law, and society major, and former West Point plebe, had a similar experience.

“There is a difficulty in traveling to other universities — USC, CSULB, and CSUDH — for our military science classes, labs, staff meetings and activities,” said Cadet Peralta.  “We don’t get credit for these classes. We have exams, textbooks, and dedicate our studies to these classes just like any other course from the UCI curriculum.”

None of the cadets know why UCI does not have an official ROTC program, and few are quick to offer opinions. But there is speculation in the platoon that administrators think ROTC can function effectively as a campus club. It cannot function as a club without support and recognition by the school, and until it gets that, it won’t be recognized by the military. Without an officially recognized program, the club will not get scholarship money from the military, and the club will continue to turn down qualified applicants.

A club that cannot grow is a club that cannot survive, and it’s a shame that some of the most brilliant minds from an elite West Coast school will give the distinction of commissioning its own students to another university.