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An Unexpected Safe Haven

October 30, 2019

The #MyWheaton blog shares first-person stories from Wheaton students and alumni.

An Unexpected Safe Haven

In this MyWheaton blog post, Kathleen Walter ‘21, an English major, shares about her experience with the ROTC program on campus.

Cadet David Lim and I were walking back to our apartments after the Fall Field Training Exercise (FFTX), and he asked me a question: "Did you ever imagine yourself doing this a couple of years ago?" He was referring to the three days in barracks with no showers, carrying ruck-sacks with cold-weather gear (CWG), wet-weather gear (WWG), and leftover meals ready-to-eat (MREs) while my hands still had the residue of carbon on them from weapon cleaning.

The short answer is no, I didn’t think this would be a part of my college experience.

Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) isn’t big on Wheaton’s campus. We all get the questions about what we do. Then we get the follow-up questions about what half of the words out of our mouths even meant. Even though a lot of people on campus do not know what ROTC is like, what we do, or why we do it, people have a lot of admiration for us. My classmates say that they can’t believe that I get up so early in the mornings, or that I work out so often, or that my Thursday evenings are so long. I give the usual nod, shrug my shoulders, oh-what-can-you-do replies, but I don’t really know how to tell them that those parts of the program are the easy parts.

I am into my third year in ROTC. That means I am a Military Science Level 3 student, or MS3 for short. This year, I am given more responsibility as well as scrutinization, and am constantly reminded that this is the only time I have to prepare for Advanced Camp (an evaluation all Army cadets go through between their junior and senior year of college). I have never had to question every decision I make before this year. On the flipside, I have also never judged my peers on their own decisions as much as I have in the past month. I am torn between ROTC work and academic work because, even though I have my feet in both worlds, I am expected to be 100% present in both. And of course, there is always the ever-present reality that the cadets that I am closely working with—trying to help while simultaneously receiving help—are also the cadets that I am competing against to get the best jobs in the Army.

Our roommates, closest friends, and parents may see us in the uniform and listen to our complaints, but it’s like the neighbors trying to understand our family dynamic. They will never see the time when we all look stupid in our gear because it is hanging off us broken. They won’t be there, walking away from the APFT, claiming how the MS4s could have created a better timeline—no one speaks our language! The number of times my civilian friends have teased me about responding to a question with the word ‘roger’ is too high.

In the same way that I did not expect much of what college is, I did not expect ROTC to become a safe haven away from the rest of college. I hate the program some days—all of us do—and I question if I’ll ever be a good 2nd Lieutenant. A couple of years ago, I could not have even imagined the person I am now. Whether that is a good or bad thing is up to God. In my eyes, the way that we are trained to care for our future Soldiers makes up for all of the tiny, frustrating, make-me-want-to-pull-my-hair-out moments. And only another cadet reading this will know what those moments are.

Learn more about Wheaton’s ROTC program here.