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Be All That You Can Be In ROTC

Take a walk down the hall of a typical Duke fraternity section, and you might stumble upon something a bit surprising for an all-male residence: a freshly pressed pair of pants atop a full-size ironing board. In a world where laundry baskets filled with crumpled t-shirts outnumber wrinkle-free khakis, the Duke Reserve Officers' Training Corps' required dress days create an exception to the rule.

The dress days-in which students must walk around campus in full uniform-represent some of the primary values of the ROTC program: responsibility, identity and leadership.

"Part of what we're trying to teach is teamwork, and the uniform identifies them as part of a group," Air Force Capt. Karla Mika said. "Also, it is a good opportunity to practice the customs and courtesies of the military."

The University maintains ROTC programs for all four branches of the United States Armed Forces: the Army and the Air Force each have separate programs and the Navy and Marine Corps are incorporated into one group. The Army and Air Force programs at Duke work in conjunction with programs at North Carolina Central University; 17 Duke students participate in Army ROTC, and 26 participate in the Air Force program. The naval program draws the most students, with 55 participants.

Every year, ROTC programs gain student interest through the scholarships they award. "Why I originally looked into it was the scholarships.... Now I love the whole program," said Air Force ROTC student Adam Joyce, a freshman. "Having no military experience, I was sort of shocked to find out how much I love it."

The program requires students to take military-specific classes, including lab courses in which they learn and participate in military customs and courtesies.

Army ROTC students can count on three hours of physical training, three hours of lab time and up to three hours of ROTC classes per week. The classes include an introduction to the army for freshmen, map reading and navigation for sophomores, advanced military operations for juniors and military justice and leadership for seniors. Navy ROTC students must also take one course related to the military each semester, along with a required weekly two-hour drill and lab period, which includes athletics, public speaking, small team exercises and general training in military codes of conduct. Similarly, Air Force ROTC requires enrollment in its classes: a leadership laboratory twice a week and additional physical training for two to three hours per week.

Much of the course subject matter includes an overview of military history. "It's very important for cohesion of a unit body to have a sense of heritage," Army Lt. Col. William Adams said. "Just as companies have a strong sense of corporate culture, military culture has developed over a very long time, and this helps give the students a sense of identity and a feeling of something greater."

The weekly dress days-during which students can only carry book bags without logos and must only use sidewalks while walking around campus-also serve to teach students military values. Additionally, said Navy Capt. Dennis Haines, they make the program visible.

"Other students on campus need exposure to the military, and it's important for [ROTC students] to have the opportunity to be seen in uniform," he said, adding that it also teaches the ROTC students to pay attention to "professionalism and detail."

Students said the uniform days were a good way to show their pride. "It doesn't bother me [to wear the uniform]. It's simply a lifestyle change and so now there's nothing different about it," said junior and Navy ROTC student Claire Huffstetler. "It's just part of the job and responsibilities and then once you get control of all your responsibilities it becomes more of a pride thing."

Each of the Duke ROTC programs stresses the importance of academics.

"Our goal is to commission officers in the Air Force; to do that you must have a degree," Mika said. "So, academics are [the students'] first priority, no matter how well they can lead."

ROTC monitors participants' grades and provides tutors when needed. "We have a number of facilities and extra help we can provide students," Navy Lt. Jonathan Rucker said. "But it's more an attitude, willingness and desire [that gets them through the program]."

Once they do get through the program, ROTC students encounter a prospect that most seniors do not face: they need not search for jobs-instead, they will become commissioned officers in the U.S. Armed Forces.

"For me personally, I liked the fact that... after graduation, I would be immediately put in a position of leadership where I would be legally and morally responsible for [my] men," said Army ROTC student Andrew Exnicios, a senior.

Indeed, ROTC officials agreed that the sense of responsibility provides a major draw for students.

"It's also a symbol of that sense of being beyond just a job... not just because you're wearing a uniform, [but because] you are upholding, supporting and defending the Constitution of the United States," Air Force Col. Dennis Porter said. "You're serving a higher purpose."

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