College cadets balance school, training, life

You may not know it from looking at him, but in a few years, the student sitting next to you in class may be rappelling from a helicopter in some far-off, foreign land. That girl you’ve seen at all the Women in Learning and Leadership (WILL) events may spend some of her day marching in line adorned in full Army gear. That same guy leading all the Student Government Association (SGA) meetings may have woken up before sunrise for physical training on the track.

Among the students at the College, 13 are preparing for more than a job after graduation, occupying the dual role of student and Army Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) cadet. A life in the military is on their horizons.

“I’ve wanted to serve my country for a while,” explained Andrew Mason, junior criminology major. The cadet joined last semester and is already planning for time in the Army after graduation, in addition to earning his master’s degree in government.

Cadets from Princeton University occupy the Tiger Batallion of Princeton’s Army ROTC, adjoined with students from the College to form the Lion Company. Dan Scapardine, President of SGA, is the Lion Company Commander. The senior history major has been involved with ROTC since hearing about it from his uncle and seeing a recruiter table at his freshman orientation.

“I put my name on the list, started getting e-mails from them and decided to give it a try,” Scapardine said. “It’s was a good fit. Challenging.”

The cadets are challenged each week: They’re required to attend at least two early-morning physical training sessions at the College.

Several Fridays throughout the semester are devoted to Leadership Labs to provide additional training.

Last Friday, cadets from both the College and Princeton lined up at their Princeton base on Alexander Street for one such Leadership Lab. Under the supervision of Senior Military Instructor, Master Sgt. Michael Ellis, the cadets practiced, fake guns in hand, the procedure for “clearing a room.” Repetition is vital in this training, as small squads continued to line up in the makeshift room over and over until the drill was perfected.

According to Scapardine, the “seniors run the show” while “juniors lead the exercises.” Scapardine evaluated one junior squad leader as he briefed his particular group of cadets on that day’s training mission. The mission? According to a secretive Scapardine, a patrolling exercise that – unbeknownst to the cadets – would eventually lead to a van trip and “an assault on the McCauley House,” the ROTC headquarters at the College.

“The missions are basically to see how they react to different things thrown at them,” Scapardine said. “It’s a measure of good leadership.”

Most training is in preparation for the semester’s Army Physical Fitness test, consisting of two minutes of push-ups and sit-ups and a two-mile run. Each particular event is scored out of 100 points and cadets are individually ranked depending on their outcomes.

Despite devotion to the program required by cadets, most find time to enjoy their College life.

“There’s a reason we didn’t go to West Point,” Scapardine said. “We wanted to have the college experience too. Overall, we’re pretty involved.”

Scapardine mentioned his ties to SGA and that some cadets are involved with Greek life and other campus organizations like WILL. The group also participates in intramural sports, forming soccer and dodgeball teams. Most handle a full course load at the College and a one to three-hour military science class in addition to their ROTC training and extra-curricular commitments.

“They understand though. Academics come first,” Mason said.

Freshmen and sophomores can begin training with the ROTC without any obligation to join the army. According to Scapardine, those who stay their junior year are usually contracted for service after graduation. Most contracts include three to four years in active duty with an additional four years in reserve.

The program also includes five female cadets, some of whom are in the nursing program at the College and training to work at military hospitals or other medical facilities. Some may be deployed overseas.

Debra Cho, junior women and gender studies/biology major, explained that after graduation, she plans to further her education.

“I don’t want to just be a soldier,” she explained. “I want to be a lawyer/soldier or a doctor/soldier. There are so many options.”

The junior explained that her time in ROTC has changed her mindset and helped conquer her fears of portable toilets.

“When I first came here, I was a prissy girl,” Cho said. “Now I don’t think twice about rolling around in the dirt during training.”

As for Scapardine, after graduation he’s going to work for Princeton ROTC as a “gold bar” recruiter, hanging flyers and sitting at tables in the Brower Student Center. His plan is to go into the Air Defense Artillery branch after more training in January in Oklahoma. Afterward, he will report to his assigned duty post, a location that is unknown to him for at least a few more weeks.

“I should be finding out soon,” he said. “There’s a lot of uncertainty of what’s coming, but I generally have the next year planned out.”

Still, all have plenty of training to do before possibly being deployed. So for now, the College cadets continue to train alongside their Princeton counterparts. But is there a rivalry between the two groups of students?

“Absolutely,” Mason said with a laugh.

“But, it’s a friendly rivalry,” added Scapardine. “We’re all close. Really.”

For more information visit princeton.edu/~armyrotc.

Kristen Lord can be reached at lord2@tcnj.edu.