Cindy Bither
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Army ROTC Challenged to Train More Cadets

Black Hawk helicopters transport cadets from the VMI Parade Ground to McKethan Park for a recent FTX. The activity demonstrates that the Army ROTC has the resources to offer the military experience cadets want, even to the record numbers now enrolled, said commanding officer Col. Bill Wanovich.  

LEXINGTON, Va., Oct. 22, 2012 – Stricter enrollment criteria in Naval and Air Force ROTC are bringing change to cadet ROTC selection. Cadets who do not desire to commission or do not meet service requirements may no longer select Naval or Air Force ROTC. In a process that began last year, these cadets will meet VMI’s ROTC participation requirement by selecting Army ROTC.

Already a large unit, VMI’s Army ROTC Marshall-New Market Battalion just got a whole lot bigger. Existing staff are working hard to make sure the 922 VMI Army cadets receive the physical and military training time they came to VMI to get, and VMI has added two staff slots to the unit to help with the load.

“What I hope to do is provide a complementary experience – leadership, mentoring, and coaching … that is in keeping with VMI’s vision,” said Col. Bill Wanovich ’87, commanding officer of VMI’s Army ROTC unit.

When the new staff came on board last month, they joined a team that has found success even though VMI’s cadet-to-instructor ratio is higher than the Army’s preferred 5:1 standard.

“It is a challenge,” said Maj. Reinaldo Rivera, Military Science 3 branch chief, who noted that he relies on the 1st Class cadets to train his classes of 2nds. “They have to be the primary trainers whereas in another program we would be the primary trainers. They are teaching them with their limited experience what they know from the [LDAC] training they just went through.”

The staff, he said, are there to correct deficiencies and maintain a safe environment, and the result has been success.

“We’re making it work. Our seniors who just came from LDAC were able to maintain average or above average for all events – physical fitness, leadership markers, critical thinking,” said Rivera. “Given the number we sent – we sent close to 120 personnel – that is remarkable. We sent more cadets than anybody else in the nation.”

Cadets participate in Army LDAC – Leader Development and Assessment Course – in the summer between their 2nd and 1st class years. It is, said Rivera, the Army’s biggest training program and the most important factor in Army career selection. Understanding the importance of this training to their careers makes the cadets better trainers themselves.

“They understand the stakes of properly mentoring their juniors. We’re in a good path to make sure these guys are ready for whatever the Army throws at them,” said Rivera. “Resources are going to be more scarce in the future. We’re going to have to become more creative in how we execute training. This certainly is going to give them an advantage in how to do that.”

This larger Army ROTC offers the cadets greater flexibility in career choice because the opportunity to commission remains open to them throughout their cadetship.

“Of all the services, the Army has the best capacity to take a cadet who makes a decision late in his cadetship and get them a commission,” said Col. Jeff Curtis ’79, VMI chief of staff. “We do have a number of cadets each year who do not decide until their 1st Class year, and sometimes late in their 1st Class year, that they would like to commission in the service. The Army ROTC has the capability to give them the training that they need to get them prepared to go to camp.”

“I have resources – I have bullets, I have weapons, I have vans, I have people,” said Wanovich. “Certainly they’re going to get the military experience that they want. … Smell the smoke. Get on a helicopter and feel the blast of the rotor wash,” he added, noting that he’s expecting Army cadets to have the opportunity to ride on helicopter training flights at least once during the academic year.

“The Army has the ability with the Army assets that are available locally, to showcase some of them,” said Curtis. “That is a great recruiting tool to get the cadets interested in commissioning opportunities.”

Indeed, Wanovich points out that one outcome of the greater number of cadets in the Army ROTC program is a likely increase in commissioning, one of the goals of the VMI superintendent’s Vision 2039 plan.

Selecting Army ROTC earlier means beginning Army training earlier, an advantage for those cadets who decide late to commission, said Wanovich. “It keeps a young person eligible for commissioning and service; it’s good.”

“In spite of the huge numbers, we continue to train them [the cadets] well and they continue to perform well,” said Wanovich, “and we will commission more kids through ROTC at VMI this year than from any other school in the nation.”

– Sherri Tombarge