Reflecting long-term efforts to better attract and support cadets on campus, the University’s Army Reserve Officer Training Corps welcomed 18 cadets into the class of 2022.
One cadet received commission from the University’s class of 2017; five did from the class of 2018. As of now, seven cadets will graduate from this year’s senior class. 11 are expected to graduate in 2020, 14 in 2021, and 18 in 2022. There are currently about twice as many students enrolled in ROTC as there were this time five years ago.
That pattern reflects a national one — U. S. colleges are reporting a nearly 50 percent increase in Army ROTC enrollment over six-year increments, despite the U.S. Army falling 6,500 troops short of its recruiting goals this year.
Established in 1919, the University’s Army ROTC consists of 50 cadets, whom Cadet Sergeant Paige Bentley ’21 referred to as “one big Army team.” The cadets meet three times weekly in uniform for 6:30 a.m. physical training, once for a class in military science, and once for a corresponding lab.
After four years, cadets graduate as commissioned officers with certificates in military science. They commit to four years of active-duty service or eight years of service in the Army Reserves. ROTC’s end result, career-wise, is the same as that of West Point, the U.S. Military Academy. For years, that served as a deterrent to Princeton Army ROTC’s growth.
“In the past, we noticed a lot of instances of people choosing to go to service academies rather than coming to Princeton,” said Cadet First Lieutenant Caleb Visser ’20.
Recently, that has changed drastically.
Some cadets attributed ROTC’s enrollment boom to the program’s notable graduates. General Mark Milley ’80, Chief of Staff of the Army, and General Christopher Cavoli ’87, Commander of the U.S. Army Europe, both received their commissions from Princeton Army ROTC.
“Especially in the military community, more people are sending their kids to Princeton ROTC – partially because of Generals Milley and Cavoli,” said Cadet Private Robert Doar ’22. Cadet Private Karl Jackson ’22 agreed.
“I think our alumni, particularly high-ranking ones like General Cavoli and General Milley, are gaining a lot of recognition for the quality program,” Jackson said.
In addition, the University and Princeton Army ROTC have worked closely together to recruit more cadets. Cadet Lieutenant Colonel Max Molot ’19, Commander of Tiger Battalion, explained some of the program’s efforts to gain more exposure. He cited new, targeted outreach to high-school students aimed at widening the University's pool of Army ROTC applicants and noted that, through performances like Color Guard at sports games, ROTC has begun interacting more with the University community.
The enrollment of Cadet Private Katherine French ’22 in Princeton Army ROTC was heavily impacted by those efforts.
“When I was applying, they told me they wanted to start growing the ROTC program,” she said. “They’d seen the success of it in the past, and they wanted to continue that and make it a bigger, more integrated part of the student body.”
More publicity and more outreach on the part of the program led to more interest in Princeton Army ROTC. However, the number of open spots for cadets in each class remained relatively stagnant until recently. Major Roy Emerson, assistant director of the Army Officer Education Program and assistant professor of military science, explained in an email statement how that has changed.
Recently, ROTC has been allowed by headquarters to offer more merit scholarships, according to Emerson, which he says has allowed for quick and noticeable growth; this year’s cadet class is three times the number of cadets commissioned last year.
“Princeton University fully supports the increase in national scholarship winners attending Princeton,” Emerson said.
In the face of a flood of new interest and new cadets, the University and Princeton Army ROTC have worked closely together to create a supportive community on campus.
Christopher Burkmar ’00, executive director for planning and administration for the Office of Campus Life, explained one of the new policies intended to support and enhance the student-cadet experience.
“Last year, we introduced an ROTC Fellows program, which consists of faculty and staff members who serve as mentors; connect students with resources; participate in ROTC-related activities; and ultimately strengthen the connection between a student’s military and non-military experience on campus,” Burkmar said in an email statement.
That effort has paid off for students such as French.
“There are so many opportunities here at Princeton. At the service academies, your whole life revolves around being a cadet. Here, there is an element of separation between your military and college life. You get the best of both worlds,” French explained.
In addition, before the fall of 2015, the Army ROTC program began making an effort to pair interested admitted students with ROTC cadets during Princeton Preview. It also implemented a “welcome week” for incoming cadets.
Visser cited the Princeton Preview experience as a major factor in Army ROTC’s uptick in enrollment.
“Inviting prospective students and pre-frosh to come to physical training sessions with us when they’re interested in visiting, communicating what it is to be a cadet and a student at the number one university in the world, has helped people become more comfortable making a decision and feel more dedicated to the choice they’ve made coming here,” Visser explained.
Cadet Private Doar expressed similar views.
“My Preview experience really affirmed my decision to come to Princeton rather than a service academy. I felt very welcome and could tell the University was committed to the ROTC program. Preview made it evident that if I came here, I’d get the best of both worlds – a Princeton education and top-tier military training,” Doar said.
Graduates of the program, like First Lieutenant Ryan Fulmer ’16, who is currently in his second year of active duty service, were thrilled at Princeton Army ROTC’s expansion.
“I think it’s fantastic that the class is so large — it means Princetonians are realizing what a great opportunity it is to develop themselves and give back to the Army,” Fulmer explained.
The administrators spearheading the program’s growth, like Major Emerson, feel similarly.
He asserts: “The increased presence [of ROTC] on campus will certainly be beneficial to our program and to the commissioning of America’s best and brightest men and women to service as officers, leaders in the US Army.”