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Monday, May 16, 2022

Life + Arts

Cougar cadets excels to new levels in UH ROTC

The Houston Battalion Army ROTC program held an “Earning Your Boots” ceremony Wednesday at Hofheinz Pavilion, swearing seven cadets into the Army.

There are 125 cadets in the ROTC program, and of that number, 106 are on their way or have been officially contracted. For this school year, 15 have become or are on their way to become commissioned officers. Battalion commander and professor of military science Lt. Col. Michael Smith hopes to exceed those numbers within the next couple of years.

Despite the armed forces draw-down, Smith said the standards across military branches will remain the same.

“We are, however, not affording as many waivers as in the past,” Smith said.

In the past, if a potential candidate had a knee issue or perhaps a minor-in-possession charge, a waiver would be requested and would probably be granted. Now, the waivers are no longer easy to obtain.

Smith said the ROTC program is looking for potential cadets who have what they call a SAL: a combination of scholar, athlete and leader. The program looks at these qualifications in incoming high school students, freshmen and sophomores. From the ACT and SAT scores to the athletic and competitive background to the high ranks in school organizations or Junior ROTC positions, Smith said a SAL is “the well-rounded individual.”

“That’s what our standard is, and it’s been that way for years, and it’s not going to change with the draw-downs,” Smith said.

However, just because a potential candidate meets the standards, it doesn’t mean they rank to wear the uniform. In the past, the gear was issued to all ROTC students, but sometimes students would quit and take the government-issued gear with them.

“We created the ‘Earn Your Boots’ ceremony to teach them that if you want to contract with us and become an Army officer, then you have to have the grades, you have to have the moral character, you have to pass the physical fitness test to the Army’s standard of active duty,” Smith said. “You have to have the good evaluations from your instructors saying that you have the Army values. When all that stuff has been met, then we contract you and we do a formal ceremony.”

After the cadets have been sworn in, they are issued their utilities and boots by their non-commissioned officers in front of the platoon as well as friends and family.

Army veteran and geology junior Mark Ferguson said he knew it when his platoon finished the 12-mile road march at the end of basic training.

“We topped off this hill, and we can see torches placed in (the) ground off to the side of the road. There was music playing; it was our rite of passage after completing everything from basic training,” Ferguson said. “You’re hurting and tired, and you know you finished it. That’s when you know you’re a soldier.”

Army veteran and political science and economics junior Robert Martinez III said the reality of becoming a soldier didn’t hit him at first.

“A week later, that’s when I realize I was a soldier in the United States Army,” Martinez said. “I feel very happy I was part of history, a part of something that is bigger than me. I was serving my country — I realized this when I did flag detail.”

Martinez adds the training drained him and his comrades physically, mentally and emotionally.

“You’re transitioning from a civilian to a soldier,” Martinez said. “All the habits you had were being eliminated. From your posture to how you salute, they teach you how to be a leader in stressful situations.”

Nevertheless, it doesn’t mean one cannot enter the program and train to meet the standards.

“We don’t expect everyone to come in and be Army ranger-qualified,” Smith said. “We will give you the tools, we will give you the training and we will provide the platform, which is physical training five times a week. We will do everything we can. Ultimately, you have to come and perform. When we send you home, you got to do your portion when you go home.”

In spite of this, Smith said it takes more than to show up. “You got to have the heart and soul and desire,” he said.

Although they earn the right to wear the uniform, cadets have not yet become soldiers. They are cadets in the U.S. Army Reserve control group status.

The benefits of having a contract include the cadet receiving campus-based scholarships, which pay full tuition and fees, $1,200 per year for books and supplies and a stipend of $300 to $500 a month. These benefits will not officially begin until the cadet has been sworn in and given a contract.

Moreover, Smith said the benefits of being commissioned will guarantee a job.

“With 50 percent of college students being unemployed, we’re the only ones out there that can guarantee a job,” Smith said. “No matter what happens, you will have a job. It’ll be active duty, full-time or part-time in the guard or reserves. Secondly, military officers in general are heavily recruited from headhunter agencies. If you pass college, that’s one thing. If you became an officer and commissioned simultaneously to that, that tells these employers you have the leadership and managerial skills. Those kind of traits that corporate America is looking for.”

For more information about the Houston Battalion Army ROTC program, visit its page on the UH website.

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