Wicker: ROTC Essential to Maintaining the World’s Best-Led Military

A year before the United States formally entered World War I, President Woodrow Wilson signed into law the National Defense Act, expanding the National Guard and establishing a program to prepare young men and women for military service. This program – known as the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) – has produced hundreds of thousands of skilled officers and leaders in the U.S. military over the past century.

Many Mississippians have joined ROTC as a way to train for a military career while earning a college degree. In addition to providing financial assistance, ROTC students have the opportunity to develop and advance life-long leadership and problem-solving skills. Five universities in our state have ROTC programs, and campuses across the country have seen a rise in ROTC enrollment in recent years. I am thankful for my own ROTC experience in college, which led to service with the Air Force after graduation.

Training Our Future Military Leaders

It is interesting to note that the formal establishment of ROTC in 1916 coincided with America’s emergence as a global power – a status we still hold today. A world war raged overseas, and the raids of Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa in the U.S. Southwest had renewed calls for military preparedness at home. Nearly 100 years later, the readiness of our men and women in uniform continues to be of critical importance.

Despite the challenges of drastic defense cuts and diverse threats overseas, we must maintain a military that can strategically and successfully fulfill its missions. Part of this responsibility is ensuring the future of military leadership by training the best and brightest to serve. ROTC remains one of the primary commissioning sources for our armed forces. Army ROTC has recruited more than 40 percent of the Army’s current active-duty general officers and 60 percent of second lieutenants in the Army, Army National Guard, and Army Reserve. It also plays a critical role in increasing diversity within the officer corps and the force, providing an alternative educational background from those who train at the federal military academies. Among ROTC’s distinguished alumni is former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who served as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Protecting the Future of ROTC in Mississippi

Earlier this month, the Army announced its decision to close the ROTC unit at the University of Southern Mississippi at the end of the 2014-2015 academic year. Created in 1951, USM’s Army ROTC program is Mississippi’s most diverse unit and is of special importance to our National Guard, which draws many of its officers from ROTC units in the state. Widely regarded for its high quality, the program has produced 1,555 graduates, including 16 general officers.

I look forward to discussing this decision with USM officials and Army leaders as we explore options for keeping USM’s ROTC program active. In addition to the impact of ROTC on the Mississippi National Guard, some freshmen and sophomore cadets at USM might choose to drop out of the program or transfer to another school.

Mississippi has a long tradition of military service, and our ROTC programs help empower the next generation of Mississippians to serve their country. I hope we can continue to strengthen the ROTC programs on campuses throughout our state and encourage more of Mississippi’s motivated youth to participate.

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