ROTC programs' revival a goal at University of Ozarks, UALR

Posted: March 5, 2018 at 4:30 a.m.

Cadet squad leader Brooks Boshears (center) gives instructions to fellow University of Central Arkansas ROTC cadets during a training exercise on Feb. 1 at the UCA intramural fi elds in Conway.

University of the Ozarks President Richard Dunsworth was at an alumni event some two years ago when he heard of a colonel who was soon retiring from the Missouri National Guard.

To his surprise, he learned Col. David Lowe got his start at the Clarksville university's ROTC program in the mid-1980s.

And so the president's questions began. Mainly he wondered whether ROTC programs could potentially serve the university's students.

Now, the University of the Ozarks is one of two Arkansas universities looking to kick-start ROTC programs on their campuses. It has restarted the program this spring in collaboration with the University of Central Arkansas, while the University of Arkansas at Little Rock is hoping to ramp up its program's enrollment as well.

Only 19 of the state's 47 public and private colleges and universities offer the Army ROTC program through four host institutions -- the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville; the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff; Arkansas State University; and UCA. (UA is also the only one in Arkansas to offer an Air Force ROTC program.)

Many higher education institutions boasted their own Army programs, but many fell off the grid beginning in the 1990s with the drawdown of the military, said Lt. Col. James Welch, the chairman of the department of military science and leadership at UCA. Other higher education leaders in the state suspect that some of their own programs were discontinued because of low enrollment.

And yet others -- such as the University of Arkansas at Monticello and Arkansas State University-Mountain Home -- now have defunct programs because of retirements or reassignments of the locally stationed officer.

Still, Arkansas ranks 27th in the nation in collegiate ROTC program enrollment. This year, it has 381 students of the nation's 29,790, according to Army Cadet Command data, and it is currently on par with enrollment expectations.

Enrollment in collegiate ROTC programs closely correlates with the drawdown or buildup of the military -- but with about a 2-½ year lag time, said Lt. Col. Jeremy Reihl, chief of the Operations Analysis Division in Cadet Command.

Troop levels -- and those of ROTC programs -- are not directly tied to mission requirements, such as wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, said Rosie Heiss, senior defense adviser for U.S. Sen. John Boozman. She added troop levels -- or end strengths -- are driven more by the National Defense Strategy.

"Since 2001, [the Department of Defense] was engaged in a counterinsurgency-style of combat operations," she said. "The National Security Strategy and the National Military Strategy now have us refocused on major theater warfare against near-peer competitors, which will shift our military requirements and thus personnel levels. Now that we are refocusing on major theater war, troop levels are increasing."

For 2018, the Army is set to increase its active duty troops by 16,000, she said, and one of its main officer pools is through collegiate ROTC programs. The state's programs have commissioned an average of 58 officers a year over the past five years, leaving Arkansas 32nd in the nation, Cadet Command data show.

Lieutenant colonels at Arkansas' other host institutions said they did not know of other schools that wanted to start or restart ROTC programs. Even a school wanted to, host institutions would have to review the distances and available resources to ensure the program would be feasible, said Lt. Col. Brian Mason, senior assistant professor of military science at ASU.

Welch of UCA -- which has partnerships with eight higher education institutions in Arkansas -- said the troop increase means ROTC programs will have to commission more second lieutenants.

"This doesn't necessarily change our current recruiting strategy as the key will be to ensure students at all eight of our campuses know about the opportunities that ROTC has to offer," he said.

ROTC programs offer cadets scholarships, stipends for books and fees and monthly living allowances.

Some schools offer other benefits on top of that. At ASU, cadets have a living learning community -- a "dormitory" building which includes single-occupancy rooms -- designated just for those in ROTC programs, Mason said, adding its program also has a dedicated athletic trainer. At University of the Ozarks, officials have institutional scholarships for housing and food for ROTC students, and it will also provide those students transportation to and from Arkansas Tech University in Russellville, where the Clarksville students will take the military science courses.

University of the Ozarks leaders said the program seemed to complement what the school was already doing -- focusing on student success and ensuring that students persist and eventually graduate with a degree. Students in ROTC have higher graduation rates -- to be commissioned, students need to earn bachelor's degree -- and have demonstrated leadership, Dunsworth, the university's president, said.

"They have sound character, sound mind, and they're good citizens," he said. "We thought if we could find opportunities for those students, it would be easier to recruit that exceptional student here."

The university has enrolled three students this spring, said Reggie Hill, the school's assistant vice president for advancement and director of enrollment management. It hopes to enroll between six and 10 students a year afterward, Dunsworth said.

At UALR, Kathy Oliverio, the director of military student success, said the school used to have a "vibrant" program but it "just disappeared" around 2011 and 2012. And she said she doesn't know why. Four students who were in the program then had to finish up at UCA.

Oliverio, who has been with the university for a decade, said she pushed to get the program back and that it has been an affiliate school with UCA for about two years now. The university has sent out informational emails and used social media to push the military science classes it now offers, she said.

"We'll get one or two people interested," she said, adding that she believed North Little Rock High School has the highest junior ROTC program in the state. "This semester has probably been our best semester. We had 6 students."

This year, UCA tried a new initiative, teaching freshmen courses at UALR for students at that campus and Philander Smith College, Welch said. The effort means that Little Rock students don't need to drive to Conway to take the military science courses or participate in athletic or other activities, he said.

Getting more students for the ROTC program will allow UALR to build up the upperclassmen military science courses, Oliverio said.

"We have Maj. [Eric] Weatherman, who is a certified ROTC faculty member, and he comes down from UCA, but it would be nice to have enough students to support him with someone else permanently here at UA Little Rock," she said. "We want students, and we are building it. And if they come, it will continue."

Cadet Alexander Propes (right), a junior at the University of Central Arkansas, leads a flanking maneuver with ROTC cadets during a training exercise ...

Metro on 03/05/2018