Hidden deep inside the historic corridors of the University of Maine Field House lies one of the most driven sectors on campus when it comes to leadership, athleticism and scholastic ability — and it’s not an athletic team. Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, better known as Army ROTC, founded in 1869, is the only such sponsored volunteer program in the state.
“It’s an Army program that trains college students to be Army officers,” said Garrett Clark, a fourth-year Husson University criminal justice student and public affairs officer cadet captain.“It’s one of a few ways to become an officer. The other way is to go through Officer Candidate School, which requires a degree.”
Students of the group, also known as the Black Bear Battalion, do physical training every morning at 5:30 a.m. and serve as color guard for various ceremonial gestures, including hockey and football games.
“We have a 20th Maine group that does a lot of volunteering around campus, we put on an annual paintball game for the baseball team and we clean the [arena and stadium] after every hockey and football game,” Clark said.
As for the effect ROTC has on cadets, specifically in the classroom and other extracurricular activities, third-year international affairs student and company commander Dale Dunn said it helps you focus even more.
“It’s kind of like a sports team. . . . You have to focus and prioritize tasks,” Dunn said. “When I was in high school, I actually did better in school during football season because I was focused. I had to do my work now before later.”
“There’s something to be said about waking up early, going to [physical training], going to class and then finding time to do your school work, especially because we’re usually busy on the weekends,” said fourth-year history student Tom Ryan. “Time management is key.”
According to Dunn, there are many obligations, most of which are non-personal.
“For a third- or fourth-year student, you have [operations orders] to write and send out to first- and second-years to make sure they have a good understanding of what’s going on,” Dunn said. “So you’re not only looking out for yourself, but the other individuals here.”
Both Clark and Dunn believe ROTC shapes character.
“It helps individuals develop leader skills,” Dunn said. “[Cadets] are forced to interact or become more open. Overall, it helps to build an individual.”
“We’re training the future leaders of the Army, right here at ROTC,” Clark said. “It’s a pretty big responsibility.”
UMaine ROTC recently took part in one of its biggest events of the year in the Ranger Challenge, which is generally held toward the end of October, but came earlier this year.
According to Dunn, Ranger Challenge captain, there was an unexpected switch of events that was certainly a curveball for most teams.
Traditionally, the event is held in Fort Devens near Ayer, Mass. and includes the following events: Army physical fitness test, marksmanship, weapons disassembly and assembly, land navigation, field leader’s reaction course, obstacle course, hand grenade assault course and 10-kilometer road march.
This year’s event was held at Fort Dix near Trenton, N.J, Oct. 6 to 7, and didn’t include many of the old events.
“We did a burden carry, which involves picking up a pretty good sized log and walking a mile with it, a rappel tower and two different obstacle courses,” Dunn said. “Also, there was a medical packing course which involved a casualty unit moving to a secure area or impromptu landing zone where a helicopter can gain potential access.”
According to Clark, the Ranger Challenge group is like the varsity team of ROTC.
“It’s a small group of cadets that get together and go down to one competition against all other schools across the nation,” Clark said. “This year there was 44 schools altogether.”
As for the end results of the Ranger Challenge, Dunn says the group improved immensely since last year’s competition.
“In 2011, we were one of the lower-ranked teams, and that was when we knew what the events were going to be,” Dunn said. “This year, they switched things up on us, so we had things we couldn’t really train for.”
The team took 19th place out of the 44 teams.
“We plan to do even better next year because we have an idea of what it’s going to look like,” Clark said.
As seniors, Clark and Dunn create the training and evaluate fellow juniors for most of the year.
“We create the training and getting the [juniors] prepared for evaluation school next summer,” Clark said. “If you do well, you get the job you want. If you don’t, they put you where they want you to go.”
Dunn says assessment camp is the largest training the Army puts on for the entire year.
“About 6,000 cadets show up for 29 days, and they have 10,000 active duty National Guard personnel there to evaluate,” Dunn said. “It’s an order of merit list, so GPA and [physical training] tests are big. And then there’s small things that help out, like part-time jobs and whether you’re an officer of a student organization.”
As for upcoming events, UMaine ROTC has a squad-training exercise, which will include juniors leading a squad and seniors evaluating. Juniors will carry out recon, attack and ambush drills while seniors grade the juniors’ leadership skills and reactions to different situations.
In the spring, UMaine ROTC will participate in a field-training exercise at the Plymouth National Guard Training Area near Newport, Maine. The group will leave for a weekend for a land navigation course that includes morning and night sessions.
“Basically, each squad is given a map and coordinates they must plot and find,” Ryan said. “There’s a coffee can with a letter on it at every point. You write it down, and when you’re done for the day, you bring all the papers back and get graded.”
To pass the test, you must find five of eight during the day and three of five during the night.
UMaine ROTC has partnerships with other Maine universities, including Husson University in Bangor, University College of Bangor, Colby College and Thomas College in Waterville, and the University of Maine at Augusta.