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ROTC cadets eye war confidently

When students heard that war against Iraq had ignited Wednesday night, many were sitting in the sanctity of their on-campus dorm rooms and knew that Baghdad and air raids were safely far away.

But for students in the Reserve Officers Training Corps, bombs in Baghdad may have seemed to hit closer to home.

Many ROTC students, whether they are in the Army, Air Force or Navy, declined to comment on the intensified engagement in Iraq, saying they did not want their personal opinions to be construed as representative of ROTC and the Department of Defense's viewpoint on the war.

Still, some students, including Army ROTC member Tryg Dolber, did offer evaluations of the military conflict.

"I support [President George W. Bush's] decision," said Dolber, a senior. "The first Gulf War ended on a cease-fire that Iraq has been violating for years.... Containing Iraq for the past 10 years isn't working."

Outside of individual sentiments about the war, Army ROTC member and senior Stephanie Grant said that neither the training nor the general atmosphere during exercises has changed with the escalation of the American-Iraqi conflict. Many ROTC students said the possibility of going to war as part of the armed forces is a reality they accepted when they decided to join ROTC.

"This is our job. This is something you know and accept when you join the program," Grant said. "It really hasn't changed the atmosphere of our department. It's a very professional department."

Grant said that no one can ever be fully prepared to launch into combat, although Dolber said he is ready to march into Iraq if called upon to do so.

"I'm not afraid of dying," Dolber said.

For most current ROTC students, however, it will not likely come to that. Due to the requisite post-graduation training before any soldier is deployed, they will probably not see warfare directly anytime soon.

Dolber also said that ROTC seniors are expecting to hear any day where they will be based, although he already knows in what branch he will serve - field artillery for two years and then in the military intelligence division. He speculates that the odds he will see warfare are very small, although he said he is ready to depart for the Middle East if the situation were to arise.

"I won't be deployable for at least another year," Dolber said. "If the war isn't over until then, then something's wrong."

Col. Ken Menzie of the U.S. Air Force, chair of aerospace studies, acknowledged that the war in Iraq weighs heavily on the minds of senior cadets, but agreed it is unlikely that current Duke seniors in ROTC will battle in the Middle East anytime soon.

"[It will] probably be 18 months from graduation before they can even be susceptible to be deployed somewhere," Menzie said, pointing out that right now students could not be directly based in the conflict. "There are no permanent bases in the Middle East."

Additionally, Menzie said ROTC is focused on training, not on external wars and activities, which are outside the scope of what ROTC does.

"We, in terms of ROTC, do not have an official position on Iraq," Menzie said. "I support the president as commander-in-chief.... Basically, our official position is along with the administration. We follow the direction of the rest of the United States."

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