Virginia Tech will commemorate the centennial of its Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) program beginning this weekend. The university was one of the first to form an Army ROTC program, so its centennial follows that of the national program by just a few months.
Since 1916, the ROTC’s charge has been to select and commission officers into the U.S. Army and to provide leadership development opportunities, said Lt. Col. Minter Jackson, who retired as the Virginia Tech unit’s executive officer this summer.
“With the Army today, you can do anything, especially with combat duties opening up to females,” Jackson said. “You can do anything from infantry all the way to things like the Army’s astronaut program.”
When the university opened as the Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College on Oct. 1, 1872, all 132 students were cadets organized into a battalion of two companies. Participation in the Corps of Cadets would continue to be mandatory until 1964.
As World War I approached, President Woodrow Wilson established the national ROTC as part of the National Defense Act of 1916. Although military training had taken place in civilian colleges and universities as early as 1819, the signing of the act brought the training under a single, federally controlled entity.
On Nov. 23, 1916, the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors approved the university’s first ROTC program. Virginia Tech’s Army ROTC received its federal charter less than a month later, on Dec. 21. The ROTC Infantry unit was established Jan. 5, 1917, followed shortly by Engineer and Coast Artillery.
Today, all of Virginia Tech’s ROTC units are part of the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. The Air Force ROTC started in 1946. The Navy ROTC, which includes the Marine Corps, began in 1983.
All ROTC students at Virginia Tech are members of the Corps of Cadets. Together they compose about 75 percent of the corps; the other cadets are enrolled in the corps’ citizen-leader track, which focuses on leadership development for students who aren’t seeking a military career.
ROTC students today take one program-specific class each semester, which includes a leadership lab and physical training.
“To me, the most significant aspect of Army history is the expeditionary nature that the Army has displayed since it was founded 241 years ago,” said Cadet Greg Milhiser, a senior from Montgomery Village, Maryland, majoring in international studies and in Army ROTC. “The ability of the Army to deploy anywhere to assist with humanitarian, peacekeeping, and combat missions – often all at the same time – is one of the reasons that inspired me to pursue this path.”
Milhiser said his goal is to join the Army’s Military Intelligence Corps. He has taken several Virginia Tech classes that focus on the intelligence community, learning the why and the how of gathering intelligence.
“The most significant aspect of my major that will help me as an Army officer is the exposure to global issues and possible steps toward finding a solution to those issues,” Milhiser said. “Modern Army officers need to be able to understand the global community and the issues facing it currently.”
Virginia Tech’s Army ROTC will celebrate its anniversary with a cake-cutting event for alumni in conjunction with the football game against Boston College on Sept. 17, which is also Military Appreciation Day and Corps Homecoming.
Another centennial celebration is planned for January 2017.
Today, Army ROTC has a total of 275 programs at colleges and universities across all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and Guam, with an enrollment of more than 30,000, according to the U.S. Army Cadet Command. It produces more than 70 percent of the second lieutenants who join the active Army, the Army National Guard, and the U.S. Army Reserve.
In 2016, Virginia Tech’s unit commissioned 92 officers.