Ever since I was a freshman, I had always wanted to try the Army ROTC program. I always strive to experience as many different programs as I can while I'm in college and I've always had a deep appreciation for the US Army. So, as a junior, I finally decided to take the jump. As you can imagine, the girly girl who loves pink and makeup got a lot of weird glances and looks when I stepped out in that uniform the first day. But being a part of ROTC was about the experience, and proving to myself and others that it was something I was capable of doing, regardless of what people thought of me. Here is what my experience taught me:
1) Commitment is high
As expected, I discovered quickly that commitment is very important to the Army and their affiliated programs. It's important that you are where you need to be, ready and on time. You may only get a day or a few hours notice of an event or an assignment. But that is in fact what makes the United States Army what it is. You are always ready and you respect those around you and above you.
2) There is a set order and certain standards
At first, everything seems like just a set of rules. You address people by their last names, learn the ranks, and study the basics. All the formalities. However, you soon learn that all of these regulations are in place for a reason. They are about respect, honor, and what makes the military run like a well-oiled machine. When you are out on the field, everyone must have a certain place and position. Someone being out of place could be the difference between life and death. Over time, I found myself appreciating these principles because I realized how important they are.
3) It gives you a deeper appreciation and understanding of what it means to be an American.
I've always been passionate about being an American and how incredible our military is. But participating in ROTC deepened that appreciation even more for me. You learn that the uniform is not just a uniform. It is what so many soldiers before you have worn, and died wearing, while defending our country. It is a symbol of unity and power and when you're wearing it, I can't explain the feeling of strength you experience. It choked me up every time.
4) It's like a family
I've always been a very independent person. Especially as a musician, I'm used to riding solo and doing better without a team. However, sometimes I definitely wish I had "a group". ROTC definitely gave me a sense of belonging. I felt like I had a family and a group of people that were looking out for me. It was unlike anything I'd ever experienced.
5) The lifestyle gets addicting
It's an interesting thing to be both a regular student and a member of ROTC because the lifestyles and mindsets are so different. This was especially true for me because I've always been girly. Oftentimes, the military way of life, for me, was like night and day. It quickly became evident why there is civilian life and military life. They are so separate it's not even funny. I noticed that there were many times in the beginning of the day, I often wished I was somewhere else doing something else. But by the end of the day, I was so pumped up and into what I was doing. I always went in dreading it and yet found myself growing to love it. When I was with ROTC, I was in a zone and it got addicting very fast. I understood why so many people loved this way of living.
6) It can be taxing in every way
One of the most important things I learned is that ROTC places demands on you in every way: physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. It is taxing and not everyone can do it, nor has the drive to do it. Being a part of the program makes you feel strong and set apart. You are the small portion of your campus that has a different understanding and outlook on life, with a strong presence. It made me realize why many of the members of our military are the strongest, most multi-faceted people I've ever known.
7) It's very rewarding
One of the most unexpected feelings I experienced was how rewarding it was. I have never felt more accomplished in my life than in the van ride home after an afternoon in the classroom and woods, learning about ambushes & movements. It's an interesting realization that while many of your colleagues back on the campus are watching Netflix for hours, you've spent the last 4 hours of your life doing military training. It's not a choice that everyone would make and you feel the selfless pride in that.
8) You get to do a lot
ROTC offers a variety of experiences, from working out with PT at 6am 5 days a week, to 3 day field training exercises in the woods, to attending dressy events like dining in and the military ball. You get a decent immersion into the culture of it to see all the different sides.
9) It's not for everyone
The military is definitely not for everyone. I decided to try the program to gain some exposure to what it was all about, with no intentions of commitment. I have my own career path in psychology that does not include being in the Army, and that is okay. I wasn't always able to participate in everything as much as I wanted to because my academic schedule was always so heavy. And while there were a lot of aspects that I loved, there were also many times where it was something I couldn't see myself doing. The truth is that it's not something everyone can do. I say that not in vain, but out of everything I saw and experienced. The Army way of life does indeed take a lot of discipline, leadership, and respect, which are not values that are hugely prominent in our generation today.
10) It changes your life
I will never be the same. That much I know. I would never trade the experiences that being an ROTC cadet gave me, even though it's something I will probably not continue with in the future. It has given me a new outlook and appreciation for America and the US Military that I will always carry with me everywhere I go. There were many times that this experience was tough and stressful, but I'm glad I had it nonetheless.