A Tradition of Service
By Andrew Zhu
Published on Friday, February 15, 2013
If you’ve been paying attention, you probably noticed students wearing Army combat uniforms while you were passing through FoCo, walking by the Green or going to the gym. Quite conspicuous in the vast sea of J. Crew, Patagonia and L.L. Bean, they stop every so often to receive a handshake and a thank you from complete strangers.
Now imagine between 300 and 400 students wearing the exact same uniforms crossing the streets of Hanover. You may think this situation is solely the stuff of movies, but this was in fact not an uncommon occurrence during the early and mid 20th century at Dartmouth. These students are the men and women of the Dartmouth Reserve OfficerTraining Corps, a college-based program for training commissioned officers of the United States armed services.
Upon completing training, these officers have the opportunity to serve in all the branches of the armed forces. Dartmouth has a rich history of producing officers for service starting as early as 1918. At the height of its popularity in the 1950s and 1960s, Dartmouth ROTC enlisted almost 400 men from each class, comprising nearly half the student body. These cadets participated in numerous events, from drills on the Green to public commemorations for national holidays that featured military marches around Hanover.
Despite its storied history and numerous scholarship opportunities, ROTC has dwindled from its original numbers to become a smaller, but still important, entity on campus. While this group enrolled just six cadets in 2008, it has recently seen a resurgence in numbers and interest. There are currently 15 cadets, led by 1st Sgt. Brian Holekamp ’12 and Commanding Officer Dan Harritt ’13 and directed by Sgt. Derek Gay and Maj. Matt Aldrich. Each week, cadets undertake three physical training sessions, spend one hour in the classroom and participate in two hours of leadership laboratory, a course designed for practical applications of leadership skills.
Holekamp and Josh Rivers ’15 have both signed contracts to serve in the Army for four years upon graduating. Both receive Army scholarships that pay for tuition and provide a monthly stipend of $350 to $500.
The two took significantly different paths to get to ROTC. Rivers initially wanted to attend the United States Military Academy at West Point, but Dartmouth pulled him away.
“I never even thought I had a chance at Dartmouth,” Rivers said. “Once I visited here, and had the chance to go to a top-level college, I came.”
Despite a change in plans, Rivers’ intentions to serve in the Army never wavered.
“Since I was little, I was always interested and wanted to do it,” he said. “It seemed exciting. I had always wanted to serve my country.”
Although he had always had a personal interest in the Army, Holekamp said his exposure mostly ended there.
“My family did not have a military tradition by any means,” he said.
Unlike Rivers, who joined the program immediately in his freshman year, Holekamp was encouraged by a friend to try the program during sophomore year. A positive experience with both the program and his fellow participants prompted him to stay.
Austin Duncan ’16 and Chase Gilmore ’16, currently on ROTC scholarships, have not yet contracted but said they are still completely dedicated and intend to.
Gilmore expressed appreciation for the commodity and likened it to his life-long experience with team sports.
“ROTC has been my biggest time commitment at Dartmouth,” he said. “As a group, ROTC cadets spend a lot of time together, both in and outside our ROTC commitments. Being in the same, intimate group as upperclassmen has given me the opportunity to find mentors to whom I can go with issues or advice about ROTC or life at Dartmouth in general.”
Duncan agreed that ROTC has had a significant positive impact on his life.
“It definitely keeps you on track,” he said. “It adds structure. If you are a scholarship student, you cannot let your grades drop.”
Despite the huge time commitment ROTC requires, many members participate in other spheres of Dartmouth. Holekamp is a member at Phi Delta Alpha fraternity while serving as president of club lacrosse. Rivers is a member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, sings in the Gospel Choir and participates in the Afro-American Society. Gilmore is a Great Issues Scholar, a member of the Students Hearing and Responding Effectively leadership program and plays intramural hockey. Duncan is a varsity lacrosse player and a member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
Both the ROTC administration and cadets agree that the organization could benefit from an increased presence on campus. Many students still do not know what ROTC is, despite recent efforts to expand visibility, including a flag lowering ceremony last Veteran’s Day and training exercises at the nearby military academy at Norwich University. These efforts have had moderate initial success, adding two students since the beginning of winter term, but room for improvement remains.
Moving forward, Sgt. Gay said he hopes for even greater progress.
“I see ROTC growing at least a little more,” he said. “Our small goal, our feasible goal for the next year or two would be 36 to 40 participants.”
ROTC has been revitalized by current Dartmouth undergraduates and recent campus spirit of embracing service. The cadets who choose to actively involve themselves in ROTC not only get to serve their country, but also get to continue the storied military tradition at our College on the hill.