Army ROTC cadets experience a different kind of college
For two years, Hyo Hwang has woken up at 5 a.m. every single weekday to run at least 4 miles and do countless push-ups, sit-ups and other body-weight workouts. That’s just one of the requirements of the Army Reserve Officer Training Corps, which he joined his freshman year at UH.
After that, he goes to class, notably military science, another of his ROTC requirements. In addition to physical training and specialized classes, Hwang also serves as a color guard for football games.
The ROTC program allows student cadets to complete college — paid for either partially or fully by the U.S. government — while also training to become fully commissioned officers in the military. The cadets do physical training and take military courses alongside their regular classes.
“One of my best friends, Tucker — I became best friends with him because we would come in every morning, sit on the couch depressed as f**k, like, ‘You ready for this five mile run?’ ‘Yeah.’ From there, we just bonded,” said Hwang, a political science junior. “We all endured it.”
Nobody left behind
While most other cadets only have PT on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, Hwang said he joined the more intensive Ranger Challenge group because he wanted to push himself.
“I hate running now because of it,” Hwang said. “Like, I f**king hate it. But it’s really great because you’re doing it with your fellow classmates and friends, so you don’t want to let them down, and they don’t want to let you down, so you’re constantly pushing each other.”
Hwang said if one cadet is left behind, the whole group gets in trouble. Instead of going on ahead, they have to slow down and help motivate them.
“In the end, everyone pushing each other to be the best that they can be…I think that’s one of the great parts of ROTC,” Hwang said.
Marketing senior Kayla Dodd joined the ROTC at UH after a five-year stint in Vicenza, Italy, as a civilian employee of the Army.
“I moved back, and I just missed the discipline,” Dodd said. “The first time I came back here, and I went in a Walmart, and there were kids hanging all over the place. I almost started crying. I was like, ‘This is culture shock.’ I’m from America, but these people are crazy.”
In Italy, Dodd said, she did payroll for the Army. She was told that it could pay for her to move back to America, but the Army wouldn’t be able to extend her contract.
“I decided to do the officer route because I didn’t want to enlist at 24. There was no way I was gonna be a private,” Dodd said. “Going the officer route, you get your college paid for first. A lot of guys will enlist and get their college paid for after.”
Dodd said she’s found that some soldiers who come back from war are so thankful to be alive that they believe they can get through anything.
“They come back and go to college. They’re like, ‘This is too easy. What do I care? I’m just so thankful to be having this day,’” Dodd said. “Sometimes, they didn’t think they were gonna have that day. They just have that grit and intestinal fortitude that you just don’t find. They’ve seen exactly how hard something can get and still come out of it.”
Hwang also described people he’d known before being deployed and what they were like when they came back.
“I don’t wanna say they were different, but they had a different outlook on life,” Hwang said. “Like, not taking it for granted, I guess, and in general, a little bit more respect for it. … They just have a different outlook on how precious life is, how sensitive it is and how quickly and how easily it can be taken away from you.”
Practicality and practice
Hwang isn’t too worried about seeing combat when he eventually gets deployed, he said.
“Currently, I’m a (cavalry) scout, which is a combat arms profession, cause I was a stupid 17-year-old who thought, ‘Bang bang, Call of Duty,’ right?” Hwang said. “But now that I’m older, more mature, I want something practical.”
Hwang said he wants to be a signal officer when he graduates. He described them as forming the information technology department of the Army.
“I want to get that experience, go back to school, probably major in computer science and cybersecurity, and from there I’d go on to the FBI,” Hwang said.
The Signal Corps is not a combat profession, Hwang said. He might be attached to an infantry unit and be sent into the field, but the likelihood of him being in mortal danger would be low.
Dodd’s chosen branch for when she is activated in the Army is human intelligence, she said. As an intelligence officer, it would be her job to gather the intelligence soldiers collect in the field, make it comprehensible and send it to a higher-up to receive mission orders.
Dodd isn’t in the Ranger Challenge group, so she attends PT three mornings a week. On her most difficult days, she said she wakes up at 5:15 a.m. and gets to campus by 6:15 a.m. She’ll have a 4- or 5-mile run, then go to training meetings and classes by 2:30 p.m.
She said she goes home and tries to take a short nap, then works as a bartender from 5 p.m. to 3 a.m.
ROTC Cadet Hunter Morgan, a history junior, wakes up even earlier.
“A typical day for me in ROTC starts at 4:45 a.m. because I commute from Katy,” Morgan said. “When I get to to UH, the other cadets and myself conduct PT for an hour.”
Dodd stressed the importance of winding down with such a busy schedule. She said she takes a few nights off a month from tending bar to build gun cases, her favorite hobby.
“I actually don’t have to work tonight, or tomorrow, so I’ll be in my garage, building gun cases, listening to music, not giving a f**k,” Dodd said. “You have to have a mental break, or you’re going to mentally break.”