Baylor ROTC Cadets Earning Their Wings
Aim High, Aim Air Force. No One Comes Close. Cross Into the Blue. These easily recognizable advertising slogans invite young people to consider the United States Air Force as a possible career path. A number of Baylor students have accepted that invitation by joining the University's Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC). One day soon they will be defenders of the nation.
Formed in 1948, one year after the creation of the Air Force as a separate military branch, Baylor's program is one of the nation's oldest Air Force ROTC units and recently commissioned its 1,000th officer as a second lieutenant. Of those 1,000 officers, 9 have become generals, a much higher percentage than most programs can boast.
"Usually, you can expect one general out of 1,000 second lieutenants, so Baylor has produced some notable graduates," said Lt. Col. Jeffrey Bowles, commanding officer of the University's ROTC unit and professor of aerospace studies.
Bowles, an alumnus of Baylor ROTC, attributes the success of its alumni to the fact that Baylor attracts the type of student that the Air Force looks for in its officers.
"The Air Force is built on the core values of integrity, excellence and service before self, which very much mirrors the mission of Baylor," he said. "A lot of the qualities that the Air Force wants to build into its people, the students at Baylor already possess. This is reinforced throughout the entire academic curriculum and through extracurricular activities. The Air Force doesn't have to teach those values to our alumni."
Participation in Air Force ROTC programs is growing across the country. Approximately 4,000 cadets are expected to attend field training this summer, an increase of 1,000 students over previous years. Bowles expects those numbers to continue to increase and cites two reasons for the projected growth.
"Students are responding to a call of patriotism, especially since the events of September 11," he said. "We had a number of students, about 16, who joined the program after that.
"Also receiving a college education is expensive and a lot of scholarship money is available for students who participate in ROTC. Well over $60 million is available nationwide from the Air Force for scholarships. Almost half of our students receive financial assistance of some kind, usually in the form of full-ride scholarships. In fact, we recently wrote a check to Baylor for over $800,000 to pay our cadets tuition for this year."
But whether they receive financial assistance or not, ROTC cadets incur a commitment to the Air Force. After graduation they will serve at least four years on active duty, although several specialties require a longer commitment. Pilots must serve 10 years after they have completed their pilot training.
The students who make up Baylor's Cadet Wing spend their ROTC days preparing for active duty. In addition to the coursework required for their degrees, they attend academic sessions and leadership laboratories in aerospace studies. Their freshman year, cadets receive an introduction to the Air Force, while sophomores and upper classmen study the history of air power, leadership and national defense.
"Our academic sessions are more interactive discussions than when I was a cadet, and the material has been updated. Whereas I learned about the Cold War, these cadets learn about Panama, Desert Storm and Bosnia," Bowles said. "We also use every opportunity to discuss world events and their applicability to our lessons."
In addition to the academic classes, all cadets participate in physical fitness training, drill, learn leadership skills and perform community service, such as visiting military veterans or making presentations to area elementary schools. Cadets also provide the color guard for Baylor football and some basketball games, organize flag vigils and usher or help with catering at University events.
"ROTC has helped me immensely," said Erika Tillman, a May 2002 graduate from Fort Worth who will serve as an aircraft maintenance officer at Pope Air Force Base in North Carolina. During her four years at Baylor, Tillman served as detachment flight commander, in which she was in charge of 25 freshman and sophomore cadets; wing commander, in which she was in charge of the entire cadet wing; and recruiter for the program.
"One of the main reasons I chose Baylor was for its [ROTC] detachment, and it has provided me with so many leadership opportunities," she said. "I have learned about communication, problem solving, giving and receiving criticism, and organization. I also have learned about patriotism, military and American history, and I have a greater appreciation for our nation as a whole. The entire experience has been wonderful."
Preparing for life in the service doesn't stop with the end of the spring semester. Between their freshman and sophomore years and then again between the junior and senior years, cadets can volunteer to spend a few weeks learning about different Air Force careers.
"Some students will go to an Air Force base during the summer and job shadow officers who are in careers that the students are considering, such as hospital administration, communications or security," Bowles said. "Other programs let cadets learn to fly a glider or jump out of perfectly good airplanes and earn their jump wings."
But the summer between their sophomore and junior year is reserved for intense military training at bases in Texas, Florida or South Dakota. It is after this time that students who are not on scholarship must decide if the right career for them is with the Air Force.
"Field training is often equated to officer boot camp," Bowles said. "The cadets will be greeted by a training instructor and be given very precise expectations from the time they get up at 4:30 in the morning until the time they go to bed at 9:30 at night. The whole objective is to see how well they perform in a stressful environment."
During these four weeks, the students will drill, have a jet orientation flight, learn to shoot a 9mm pistol and, in a somewhat limited fashion, experience the rigors of being deployed in a field environment, where they will live in tents, eat MREs (meals ready to eat) and defend their camp against aggressors.
Once they have successfully completed field training and have signed their contract with the Air Force, the cadets will be categorized into flying and non-flying positions.
Whichever career path they choose, the newly commissioned officers will gain valuable, hands-on experience that they might not find in the civilian sector. That hands-on training is what attracted Bowles to the service years ago.
"My degree was in business broadcasting, and my first job was producing training and information programs for air crews. While my contemporaries were ripping copy off a teleprompter, I had responsibility for crews and millions of dollars worth of equipment. The breadth of experience and leadership that I received was unparalleled," he said.
Although he had planned to serve the required four years and then separate, Bowles will soon mark 19 years as an Air Force officer.
"I have been having too much fun working with some incredibly talented, dedicated people to leave," he said. "Our philosophy at ROTC is that whether our cadets stay in for four years or for 30 years, they will return to society something better than they were and they will have given something back to their nation."