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MIT blogger Rona W. '21

[Guest Post] Those Kids in Uniform by Rona W. '23

Everything you didn't ask to know about ROTC

Hi all! My name is Catherine J. ‘22. I’m studying Computer Science (Course 6-3) and I’m a sophomore cadet in Air Force ROTC. 

ROTC is an amazing program and a huge part of my life. However, it’s hard to understand what ROTC is unless you’re in it or you’re familiar with the military. I wanted to answer some of the questions I get the most, and provide specific information about the rewarding experience of being a cadet here at MIT. 

So what actually is ROTC?

ROTC stands for Reserve Officers’ Training Corps. Basically, it’s training to become an officer in the U.S. Military. ROTC gives students the opportunity to complete that training while they are in college, so that they can commission at the same time as their graduation.  

Here at MIT we host ROTC programs for three branches of the military: Navy, Army, and Air Force. Since I am an Air Force cadet, I complete their training curriculum and attend their activities.

At last week’s LLAB, we worked as a team to learn “Wargaming,” which is like a more complex game of Risk but with actual Air Force assets. It mimics the operations of the Air Force in areas of conflict.

At last week’s LLAB, we worked as a team to learn “Wargaming,” which is like a more complex game of Risk but with actual Air Force assets. It mimics the operations of the Air Force in areas of conflict.

Are you required to join the military after graduation? 

The short answer is yes. If you finish ROTC, there is a four-year active duty commitment (for most careers – some careers like pilot have longer commitments). However, if you are not on an ROTC scholarship and just want to give the program a try, you can do so with no obligation freshman and sophomore year. 

After sophomore year, you go to Field Training and commit to finish ROTC and commission. Field Training is specific to Air Force ROTC and other services have a different training structure, but all require military service upon completion of the program.

What does your week look like? 

[Monday 3-4pm] ROTC Class: Yes, we actually do have a class class. You go to the Air Force Classroom which looks like your typical high school classroom, except wayyyy cooler because it’s decked out with pictures of fighter jets. Freshman year you cover a lot of introductory material and basic information about the Air Force. Sophomore year is all about leadership skills. Junior and senior year class is slightly longer, and you learn about how doctrine, strategy, and leadership fit together and you prepare for commissioning. 

[Tuesday 3-5pm] Leadership Laboratory (LLAB): LLAB has more hands-on activity, like drill (basic marching), team building exercises, and introductory combat skills. The goal of LLABs varies year to year: freshman year it’s learning, sophomore year it’s preparing for Field Training, and junior and senior year it’s practicing your leadership skills. Juniors and seniors are in charge of actually planning and running LLABs.

ROTC at leadership lab

At this LLAB last Fall, we learned how to administer emergency care to a fallen pilot.

[Wednesday 7-8 am] Physical Training (PT): What we do varies from week to week and day to day. However it mostly centers around training to pass the Physical Fitness Assessment (PFA) each semester, which is required to stay in the program. The PFA consists of 1 minute of push ups, 1 minute of sit ups, and a 1.5 mile run. We just took this semester’s PFA in mid-October. I’m happy to say that each time I’ve taken the PFA I’ve gotten a better score than the last time, so whatever workouts they give us in PT sessions seem to work for me! 

[Friday 7-8 am] Physical Training (PT): same as above

ROTC on field during physical training

Is there a summer commitment?

I feel the need to emphasize that this varies greatly between the branches, so I can only speak for Air Force. Air Force only has one required summer commitment: Field Training. 

During your sophomore year, you apply for a slot to go to Field Training, which is 2 weeks of boot-camp style training. You get yelled at a lot and evaluated on things like drill and leadership skills. Every cadet has to successfully complete Field Training in order to commission. As previously mentioned, I’m currently a sophomore, so I will attend Field Training this summer :)

Other than that, your summers/IAP are free to do whatever you want! However, AFROTC has many opportunities to fill your summers if you want to. These range from spending a couple weeks on an Air Force base learning the daily life of an officer, to spending an entire summer abroad learning a language like Russian, Arabic, Mandarin, Korean, or Swahili.

I think this is one of my favorite things about ROTC. I never feel the same pressure as other MIT students to attend career fairs, apply excessively to internships, or network with companies. I have the peace of mind that a job is waiting for me on the other side of graduation, and I can make schoolwork my priority. I only take internships and opportunities that I actually think I will learn from, and the Air Force provides me with additional options for expanding my skills that are only available to cadets. 

What’s your favorite part of ROTC? 

Besides what I mentioned above, this sounds really cliche, but meeting amazing friends has been my favorite part of ROTC. The program has given me the unique ability to meet and maintain relationships with students from Harvard, Tufts, and Wellesley because all those schools feed into our ROTC detachment at MIT. In the Air Force, being a good “wingman” is something highly valued, so friendship and teamwork are both very strong. 

So are you going to fly planes? 

While many cadets go through the program hoping to be selected for the coveted pilot slot during their junior or senior year, that does not interest me all that much. My dream job in the Air Force is a Cyber Warfare Operations Officer. I’m lucky that the Air Force has such a wide range of opportunities, and I’m able to serve my country in a way that I find exciting and matches my skill set. There’s way too many jobs for me to list them all, but here’s a link if you want to browse through them. 

That’s all! Thanks for reading this super long post. If you have any questions you can comment below and I’ll try my best to answer them.