War in Iraq and ROTC inspire cadets

by Rachel Hooper,
Features Co-Editor

The impact of the Iraq war on McDaniel’s ROTC program has produced more focused and dedicated cadets who are almost certain that they will be deployed into a war zone after graduation.

“We were the first class to go in knowing that we were most likely going to get deployed, and as each year goes on, it was more apparent that we are getting deployed,” said Mike Bindas, an ROTC cadet who will graduate this May. According to Bindas, seniors from the class of 2004 never thought they’d get deployed and were in the Army because it was primarily an easy way to get an education.
“Now it’s pretty much everybody knows we’re going to Iraq or Afghanistan,” said Bindas.

Asked if the war in Iraq and 9/11 has had an impact on McDaniel ROTC cadets, Bindas said, “The war on terrorism that’s going on now has caused cadets that are in ROTC to be more focused cadets; you have people really motivated and dedicated to work.”

Bindas entered ROTC after attending a military high school. He knew he would be a good leader and hopes to someday work in the intelligence community with the Defense Department.

Lt. Col. William Schumaker, battalion commander and professor of military science for the ROTC program at McDaniel, arrived here last June. According to Schumaker, five years ago the program was floundering, but now the enrollment is significantly rising with an expected 85-90 cadets in the entire program next year.

The Green Terror Battalion includes McDaniel, Mount Saint Mary’s University, and Hood College. According to Schumaker, with 18 contracted cadets, the battalion has one of the largest freshman classes and is expected to grow this semester.

“This is one of the most successful ROTC programs in the small-school category, arguably on the East Coast, some will say nationally,” said Schumaker.

What does Schumaker see as driving the increase?

“People join the Army for ROTC for a whole host of reasons; some economic, while others traditional because their parents have served in the military…some do it out of a patriotic desire?They want the adventure. They want to go to Afghanistan. They want to go to Iraq. They want to fight,” said Schumaker. “So I would say there is not a specific reason; I do not see the war as an adverse recruiting obstacle.”

Lt. Col. Herbert Harris has been administrator for the college and executive officer for the military at McDaniel for two years. The recently retired officer said he came to the ROTC program because he wanted to influence another generation of officers.

“Everybody in here will become an officer?they made that decision; they want to be the ones who make the change, affect the change by leading and directing,” said Harris. “You’ve got to have quality people and that’s what we’re trying to produce?people who can make effective change in the world, which is perfect for this program that the college talks about?changing lives.”

Harris says the number of cadets at McDaniel has steadily increased from less than 50 in 2004 to over 70 in 2008. About the Iraq war Harris said, “Everyone realizes that it’s not ‘am I going?’; it’s ‘when am I going?’ That’s the mind-set of most of them.”

Capt. Jennifer Cope, who is new to the McDaniel ROTC program, believes cadets are attracted to McDaniel because it has a solid standards-based program. However, she is surprised by the increase in numbers.

“Students joining ROTC now know that they are going to war. It takes a lot of guts to sign up knowing that within four years, you could be overseas,” said Cope.

Master Sgt. Alonzo Perry has seen McDaniel’s ROTC program grow in his two and a half years here. The amount of support the ROTC program receives from the college helps tremendously.

“They are really supportive of everything we are trying to do,” said Perry. He added that in 2006 they won the MacArthur award for being the best small school battalion, which, according to the MacArthur Memorial website, is an award based on a number of factors including enrollment, retention and contract mission accomplishment.

Regarding the war in Iraq, Perry said, “I think it does [influence the cadets] because we explain to them from the very beginning that everyone is deploying?whether it’s active duty, guard, reserve, they come in knowing that there is pretty much 100 percent possibility that if things don’t change that they will deploy.

“They still stay with the program,” said Perry. “It is not a deterrent.”

Every ROTC cadet interviewed about his or her ROTC life on campus reported similar benefits of the program. All cadets agreed that physical training in the early morning isn’t always fun, but a requirement they learn to accept.

“Nothing in ROTC is bad,” said Tyler Bilohlavek, a sophomore political science major.

“My decision to join the military happened on 9/11?I was in the eighth grade at the time, and there was little I could do? I vowed that I would do something for my country when I was old enough,” said Bilohlavek. “Many Americans have died to give us the freedoms we have today, and it’s the least I could do.”

Bilohlavek says ROTC cadets can be stereotyped and labeled for having “war hunger” and for fighting for the wrong reasons. Asked if he has ever been harassed or ridiculed about the Iraq war or being in ROTC, he said, “All the time?a lot of people stereotype people in the military as being right-winged, Bush-loving, gun-slinging people; they assume we all have the same opinion about the war and always want to pick a fight with me about it.”

Sophomore Jamie Latham joined ROTC as a freshman. She echoed that 9/11 happened had a big impact on her decision.

“My dad’s in the Army?and he had a very strong sense of duty for it and how we have to protect our nation from terrorists,” said Latham. “It really influenced me to follow his footsteps I suppose and also fight for our country as well.”

Latham said she joined the military knowing what she was getting into. “I want to fight for other people so they can have those same freedoms, but at the same time nobody wants war.”

“I knew signing up I’d be sent to Iraq or somewhere; I knew that when I was in high school freshman year,” said junior Dan Gonski. “Signing my name on that contract I knew that I would be sent to war.” Gonski now aspires to become a medical platoon leader and conduct rehab for soldiers and also hopes to get his doctorate in exercise physiology.

Senior Alex Becker says he chose McDaniel because it had the best ROTC program in the area, and he wanted the best preparation possible in a time of war.

Asked what makes the program the best, Becker said, “The commander leading it?ultimately the credit goes to Lt. Col. Schumaker, who deserves all the credit in the world, because I know for the seniors in our class, he mentored us and has gotten us ready for life.”

“People we have in ROTC now made a decision to join the military when our country was at a time of war, and I think that takes more guts than most people show as 17 and 18-year-olds in the country nowadays,” Becker added. “It just pays them honor, especially the ones now who witnessed the war; it’s over 4,000 soldiers who have died. It definitely takes a lot of guts for them.”