Thursday, July 5, 2012

Choosing a Good ROTC Program

Once you decide to join ROTC it is important to note that not all programs are created equally. Sure, the officers and NCOs go to the same conferences. The PowerPoint slides are the same at each school, as they come from Cadet Command. Even the template for the number of military personal allotted in each program is similar for schools of comparable size. However, there are intangible considerations that can determine whether you come out receiving average training from a ho-hum program, or if you are truly prepared to excel at the Leadership Development and Assessment and Course (LDAC) and become a leader within the United States Army. 

There are several subjective ways to analyze a programs worth, such as the likability of the instructors, what your peers say, and whether they follow certain rules regarding when the uniform is worn or how often physical training is conducted. However, I intend to stick with objective measurements that can be more easily compared between programs and hold universally true regardless of who is doing the comparing.

What to look for:

- The assets available near campus exclusively for ROTC training. This could include the number and quality of obstacles for the Field Leadership Reaction Course, having a rappel tower, and available land to conduct situational training exercises. The more obstacles for FLRC, the more times you will get to practice your leadership skills and learn the tricks to make you more efficient at triumphing over each challenge. Similarly, having actual wooded land to conduct missions is much more beneficial than pretending to be on a recon while walking across the flat grass of campus wearing all your equipment and being gawked at by peers.  If you don’t expect a sports team to be any good without proper training equipment, you really can’t expect anything different of training a future warrior. 

- The number of cadets who received Excellence ratings at LDAC each of the previous 2-3 years. Ideally about 20% of each commissioning class from each school should have received the top rating. This tells you that the school is teaching relevant information and is taking time to correct mistakes and encourage improvement. 

-The number of Distinguished Military Graduates (ranking within the top 20% in the nation). This is based not only on cadet rankings at LDAC, but also everything else on the national Order of Merit List such as performance on the Army Physical Fitness Test, FLRC, grades, and several other categories. Having a number of DMG cadets shows that the program encourages well-roundedness. 

-The percentage of cadets who receive their first choice of military branch. That is, this is the percent of each class that gets the Army job they wanted. After all, nobody wants to spend four years doing something they know they’ll hate. It’s important to know if your program is helping its cadets earn the slots that will make them happy and feel fulfilled. 

-The school’s placement at Ranger Challenge competitions, the number of extracurricular clubs ran by cadets, etc. If your school’ ROTC program performs well at competitions you can bet the cadets are not only physically fit. It shows they are driven, dedicated, and disciplined. They are also very likely to be tight-knit. Being around people who enjoy doing well will make you better. They are the people with pride in their performance and the good sense to know that you must earn every accolade. Similarly, morale is likely very high if the cadets are going out of their way to lead new organizations. 

This list is not all-inclusive, however it will give you a good barometer of what your potential program is like. And, if it comes down to two schools whose assets are too similar to determine which is better, you can always go back to your subjective observations and ask yourself which cadre you’d prefer to see teach class every other day.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Summer Schools

One of the best parts of being a cadet is that there are opportunities available that are not as common in the Regular Army. One such benefit is the option to attend summer training (and sometimes winter training, depending on the slots available and your school’s winter break schedule). Limited slots are given to ROTC programs to send cadets to various Army schools. Often an Order of Merit List based on Army Physical Fitness Test scores, leadership abilities, and college Grade Point Average is referenced to determine which cadets get first dibs on the training slots. In my book there are multiple tips on how to dominate the physical training test, excel at leadership positions, and perform well at school.
                The schools vary greatly. There are the badge schools, where, upon competition of the training, you earn a military badge that can be worn on your uniform for the rest of your time in service. These schools include Airborne, Pathfinder, and Air Assault schools, among others. There are also training centers and opportunities that do not award badges, but are no less fulfilling and beneficial. This includes Mountain Warfare, Robin Sage, and the Cultural Understanding and Language Program (the name may have changed since it first began).
                Which school you choose to complete is completely up to you, the slots available, and whether or not you have earned a slot. Most of my friends chose the badge schools so they could proudly adorn their uniform and show others that they were able to complete the training. Of those schools, the most popular were Air Assault (rappelling from a helicopter) and Airborne (parachuting from an airplane). I was initially offered an Air Assault slot my sophomore year, but eventually turned it down to apply to CULP. Fortunately I was selected and I spent three weeks in Slovakia the following summer. The trip included mountain biking, touring castles, a river boat cruise, going to a water park, hiking up a mountain, and spending a week with Slovak cadets at their military academy. For me the choice between the badge or travelling was simple: How often do you get a all-inclusive trip to another nation for free?
                After my junior year I was offered an Airborne slot, but chose to give it to another cadet so I could take part in Cadet Troop Leadership Training in Germany for four weeks. Again, it came down to me wanting to travel as much as possible for free. I feel that was the correct decision for me. I volunteered for other schools before becoming an officer, and after completing the Basic Officer Leadership Course I was sent to Airborne school, which goes to show that there is still a chance you can earn military badges after ROTC, if you choose to take that risk and wait.
                Clearly there are many training opportunities within ROTC and every cadet will have unique preferences. The trick is to ensure you are performing well as a cadet. As long as you continue to put in the effort you, too, can spend a portion of your summer learning a new skill or culture and have a great time doing it.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

ROTC is the Real Deal

Being currently deployed to Afghanistan, I have much time to reflect on several topics. The success of this book has shown me that there is real interest on the part of universities and cadets to be the best they can be. These cadets, who likely include you, the reader, understand something that many doubt: That ROTC IS the real Army!

I can’t begin to recount all the times one of my fellow cadets would assert that ROTC was not the real Army. That it didn’t really matter. These same cadets were also much less likely to finish high on the OML and may have been trying to comfort themselves for not performing as well as they would have liked. The fact is that ROTC is, indeed, the real Army. Now, my ROTC experience bore little resemblance to my time here in the 82D Airborne, but that doesn’t really prove much.

What the naysayers don’t understand is that ROTC has a huge effect on the Army, playing a vital role in producing officers. That is what clearly makes it a part of the real Army. If you do not take the training seriously, if you just try to skim by, you are doing your future soldiers, your platoons, a grave injustice. Yes, I know, in the regular Army there are undeniable stark differences, but, again, that does not make ROTC any less valid.

Cadets owe it to their future subordinates to be physically fit (why the APFT is highly regarded on the OML), to be adaptable (why STX and FLRC lanes are worth so many points), to be intelligent and cultured (why GPA and cultural experience are essential to a top OML ranking), etc. The ribbons you will earn as a cadet cannot be worn on your regular or reserve Army dress blues, but the standards of what is and needs to be expected of a cadet is different from the decorations emphasized as an officer. Amassing cadet ribbons shows dedication, dependability, and discipline. Similar ribbons simply don’t exist in the regular Army. To select and identify high quality cadets who will one day lead soldiers into combat, ribbons for GPA, APFT scores, and extracurricular activities are needed. They show that those cadets actually care about their performance, that they are dedicated and competitive, they know how to manage their time, they are multi-dimensional, etc. These are traits that make successful officers. The kind who are constantly striving to better themselves. If you can’t demonstrate these qualities as a cadet, why should the Army believe you will begin to as an officer?

Those who say ROTC isn’t the real Army undermine the training values to be gained during labs and Field Training Exercises. Worse yet, that attitude can be contagious, resulting in ROTC battalions that are content with producing mediocre cadets. Aside from being a poor example for others, they also miss out on special opportunities, and sink their chances of getting their first branch choice, possibly ending up in one of their least-desired jobs.

Being a great cadet doesn’t necessarily mean you will be a great officer, but it does mean it’s more likely. It shows they have leadership abilities, and it opens the door to many possibilities that I will discuss in my next entry. The next time you hear someone saying how ROTC isn’t the real Army, shrug them off. They cheapen the quality training to be gained as a cadet. If it is because the training isn’t good, then be that catalyst of change, demanding higher standards from yourself and others. Be the cadet/soldier you expect others to be. In short, lead by example. Keep your head up, keep trying your best, and you will be rewarded in many ways, not the least of which is by acquiring the skill to one day be a successful officer.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

My interview with Savas Beatie on The Ultimate ROTC Guidebook

The Ultimate ROTC Guidebook is the only guide that will tell you how to complete a mission above the standard, explain how to reach your peak fitness level, and how to improve your battalion as a whole. I recently discussed my book with publisher Savas Beatie LLC.

: Why would someone want to join ROTC?
DAA: There are about as many reasons as there are people. For some it will be the money from the monthly stipend, the scholarship, and the lump sum given each semester for books and other incidentals. For others there is the patriotic factor, which was likely sparked from 9/11. Some need a job and few jobs can guarantee the job security of the military, which will always be around. Others want the challenge of pushing themselves to take up a profession that is fulfilling to them. For me, I planned on joining the military as early as my junior year of high school, but ultimately decided not to. My freshman year of college I took the military science class and by the end of the school year knew that ROTC would be something I would enjoy.

: Where did you get the idea for The Ultimate ROTC Guidebook?
DAA: At Truman State University, an attempt was made to create a continuity document where seniors could pass along lessons learned to the rest of the battalion each year. The project quickly died out, but I thought it had a great deal of potential. One night I sat down and began writing this book as a way to preserve everything I had learned, mix in the lessons learned from my peers and others who had already graduated, and hopefully find a more efficient way for future cadets to quickly learn how to do well as a cadet so they could spend less time on the little things and focus on honing the skills necessary to be excellent at all ROTC tasks.

: How did you prepare for ROTC before you joined?
DAA: I had almost no knowledge whatsoever; not only about ROTC, but about the Army in general when I joined. Basically I spent the summer before contracting doing a lot of push-ups and sit-ups and reading military non-fiction after searching for anything written on ROTC only to find out there was almost nothing. I learned everything else as it came up, which struck me as an inefficient way to go about it. I hope this book will shorten that learning curve for future and to speed up their general knowledge, or at least let them know what it is they are supposed to do and how to do it well when, say, they're told they will be doing FLRC (Field Leadership Reaction Course, which is a series of obstacles one must pass using what appear to be odd pieces of equipment such as some rope, or a couple boards that are a few feet shorter than you'd like) next week.

: What are some examples of what makes a cadet above average, and how did you incorporate that into the book?
DAA: I made many mistakes during my time as a cadet and I used my personal experiences and lessons to create the most straightforward, un-intimidating, and easily applicable book possible so others wouldn't have to learn the hard way. To do well in ROTC you have to do three main things:
  1. Do well at school -- I include tips and techniques on how to stay on top of academics.
  2. Perform well on the physical fitness tests -- I draw upon my knowledge as a certified Health Fitness Specialist by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) to guide readers through exercise and nutrition
  3. Be a good leader -- I use my personal experience and smart sheets to show readers what makes a good leader.
: What should a new cadet expect when they first join?
DAA: The experience will vary based on the different universities or program entered. They can expect to adjust to waking up early at least three times a week to do physical training with the rest of the battalion, learning the Army lingo that is made up of a sea of acronyms, and being a part of an organization that is quick to support their own and offer a support network unrivaled by other organizations, fraternities, and sororities. There are other differences between military and civilian life (such as saying "one-zero" rather than "ten") but half the fun of ROTC is learning those details and being immersed in what is essentially a new culture.

: What is a key take-away you want your readers to get from The Ultimate ROTC Guidebook?
DAA: I think it'd be that being successful in ROTC is not just a matter of luck based on a few evaluations by cadre members. There is a certain science to it that can be mastered by following the tips and guidelines I offer. Too many people want to make excuses for why they aren't ranked high on the merit list. However, if you read this material and apply the simple lessons offered, anyone can do very well as a cadet. One big aspect I took into consideration when writing the book was to make it a format that others could easily understand and implement, and I think the book will be a tremendous instrument for anyone to use.

: Will the material in The Ultimate ROTC Guidebook apply to other ROTC programs?
DAA: Absolutely. Obviously there will be differences in the instructor quality and classmates, but ROTC is designed so that what you learn is more or less the same in every university. The books and PowerPoint presentations are all supplied by the Army, so the only differences in experiences will be the variations between cadre members. The principles provided in my book work regardless of which school you attend, and most principles still apply even in the active duty Army.

: Thank you for your time, we appreciate it.
DAA: You're welcome.

(All copyright laws apply to this interview. However, this interview may be posted digitally on the internet or printed for use in newspapers, newsletters, magazines, and other similar uses, provided it appears in its entirety, and that notice of its use is provided in advance to We also allow partial edited use, with advance permission. Please inquire. Include our website and email address with use. Thank you.)

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Packing for Deployment

Today, as I did yesterday and the day before, I spent a couple hours packing up all of my gear for deployment. As I tucked my MultiCam-patterned uniforms, melt-resistant gloves, and bulletproof body armor into my rucksack I couldn't help but think about how very different the equipment I packed for LDAC in 2009 was. Or even when I first joined ROTC and was handed BDU-patterned uniforms. I am not trying to sound old, because I'm not, but it amazes me how much changes in such a short amount of time.

After putting my Advanced Combat Helmet on top of everything else and shoving it down, I remembered similar issues I had fitting all of my gear into rucksacks of the past and thought that those who may venture onto this blog may have similar challenges.

Odds are that you know someone who somehow manages to fit the same amount of stuff into the same sized ruck as you, but makes it look like it would all fit into a shoebox. If you are that person, I envy you. When I packed my ruck it always looked like it was just waiting for the seams to burst. Finally I decided to ask my friend how he was able to make it look so easy. And not only look easy, but having all the items packed tightly together and up close to your back makes it easier to carry. Naturally, I wanted to know the secret.

Unfortunately there is no great formula. Some people really are just more gifted at cramming five pounds of junk into a one pound bag, but there are some helpful tips:

-Roll everything. Your t-shirts, underwear, poncho, etc. Rather than fold it, roll it as tightly as possible and shove it into those tiny crevices left by the hard, irregular-shaped objects.

-Better yet, cram those rolled items inside your hard items. For example, shove as many pairs of socks and underwear in your boots as possible.

-If you can, put your rolled items into Ziploc bags and squeeze all of the air out of them before zipping them shut. This is also handy if you want to make day bags. That is, put a day's worth of stuff into a baggie (underwear, socks, and shirt) so at the end or beginning of the day you just have to stick your hand in your ruck, fish around for the plastic bag, and pull it out with all the contents you need, rather than fish around for each individual item.

-Put some thought into how often you need to access certain items. If you don't need it very often, put it in the middle of the ruck. Assuming you have a MOLLE rucksack you have a zipper on the bottom as well as an open top. So you could, for example, put clothes into your waterproof bag and have it easily accessible at the top, and have your sleep system (that is, your sleeping bag and its components) at the bottom. Or whatever suits you best.

These are just a few thoughts off the top of my head, but hopefully they will help make your life easier. If you have any questions, suggestions, or comments, please feel free to let me know. All the Way!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Welcome to my Blog!

Alright, so now that the gist of what my book is about has made it to the blog, I guess I will share a bit more about myself.

Aside from the information in the section about me, I think it's pertinent for you to know I will be deploying at the end of February and am not sure how often I will be able to access the internet/this blog once in Afghanistan. However, if you have any questions at all I am more than happy to answer them as soon as I get the opportunity.

I am assuming that if you are reading this you are curious about ROTC and probably have a bunch of questions regarding what to expect and how to do well as a cadet. If so, then great! My book addresses those issues and offers so much more. I will try to post something on here at least every few weeks to give context to what your ROTC experience will be like, what worked for me, maybe a few embarrassing cadet stories, a few contrasts I have noticed between ROTC and being an active duty 82D Airborne Division paratrooper (i.e. the differences between "Cadetland" and "Real Army"), and offer more information on nutrition and fitness not included in the book.

So I suppose a good starting point would be to explain why I wrote this book. In short, it's because prior to The Ultimate ROTC Guidebook no book was written on the topic. I know that as a cadet I wanted to know what to expect and how to do well at it. Finally, beginning in my senior year I decided to take information gathered from the cadre, other cadets, personal experience, and After Action Reviews (AAR) and make a document that would allow future cadets to skip past my mistakes and move the entire ROTC program one step closer to constant progress (the book being a kind of Before Action Review), as opposed to the decades-old routine of try, make mistakes, adjust, try again with every cadet in every class making the same mistakes every year. My ultimate goal is that this book will help ROTC programs as a whole advance at a quicker rate, allowing courses to focus more on the details of being a good leader.

I would like to note that ROTC is an ever-changing organization and therefore some minor details change every year. However, I made a conscious effort to ensure the book sticks to the principles that will make it relevant for many, many years to come. I do not claim to be the best cadet ever, nor am I an expert in all matters. I am qualified based on my performance, degree, and certifications to offer a range of information that will help you excel as a cadet, though, and will do my best to answer every question you may have.


Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Ultimate ROTC Guidebook

Are you or is someone you know interested in Army ROTC (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps)? People join ROTC for many reasons. Some want a guaranteed job once school is finished. Others need help paying for college, want a challenge, or feel a special calling to be a leader in the most powerful military in history. For anyone interested in this topic, The Ultimate ROTC Guidebook: Tips, Tricks, and Tactics for Excelling in Reserve Officers’ Training Corps is a must-read necessity.

Cadets come from all walks of life, including students from high school beginning their first year of college, veterans who want to get an education and return to the military as officers, and enlisted personnel who are taking advantage of receiving a free education as they work to transform from an enlisted soldier to an Army officer. The expectations, learning curve, requirements, and tasks in cadet life will be new to you or will be conducted in a manner you have never experienced.

I had no idea what to expect as a new member of ROTC (2007). With some extra effort and hard work I adjusted and rose to the top of my class. The Ultimate ROTC Guidebook will show you, step by step, how to do the same thing I did—and much more. Within these pages you will learn what to expect and get specific and practical tips on how to excel at every level of training. There are already documents that explain how to wear your uniform correctly and what awards are available, but only this guide will tell you how to complete a mission above the standard, explain how to reach your peak fitness level, and how to improve your battalion as a whole. Using the information in this book, I became a Distinguished Military Graduate (top 20% in the nation).

The Ultimate ROTC Guidebook shortens the learning curve and will help you perform better than you believed possible. If you are planning to join, have already contracted, or are simply curious about what it takes to turn a US Army cadet into an Army officer, this book is essential reading.