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Wednesday, May 29, 2024
The Observer

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63 Notre Dame students finish ROTC programs

ROTC graduating seniors reflect on their training experience

This year, 65 Notre Dame students will graduate from Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) programs to enter into service for the United States. 24 students are graduating from the army ROTC program, 20 are graduating from the navy program — including seven in the marine corps — and 19 are graduating from the air force program.

After graduating, those in the army ROTC program can enter into the army reserves, the national guard or active duty service, while those in the navy and air force programs are generally required to enter into active duty.

In order to enter the programs, students must apply to a scholarship (usually during one’s senior year of high school) which covers either full tuition or full room and board costs for two to four years. The ROTC program at Notre Dame was established in 1951 according to the army ROTC website

Senior Katherine O’Neal, a psychology major and digital marketing and business economics minor graduating from the army ROTC program, said she didn’t come from a military family and was unsure if she would like ROTC at first. What she said changed her mind, however, were the people within the program.

“It was totally a leap of faith. I didn't really know how I was gonna go. But after my first year, I loved it, and I knew it was like the right program for me,” O’Neal explained. “The people are just fantastic. You couldn't ask for a better group of people in ROTC.”

O’Neal said she originally struggled with the fitness side of the program and working out by herself as opposed to in a group setting, but was assisted by older ROTC cadets.

“I had a mentor who helped me and would work out with me. Although it was challenging at first … having that relationship with the older cadets at the time made it into now one of my strengths,” O’Neal said. “I'm in the top five female fitness scores in the battalion now.”

O’Neal will be joining the army in active duty, but has received a Fulbright grant and will study in the Czech Republic for a year. Following this, she will have five years of active duty as a medical services corps officer.

Senior Sullivan O’Hara, a chemistry major who was originally in the air force ROTC program before switching to the army program, outlined a similar experience of support from the ROTC community.

A week into his freshman year, O’Hara tore his ACL and was unable to participate in most ROTC activities. 

“There was a year where I was new, so I didn't know anyone already, and I had this injury where I couldn't really do any exercise or stuff like that with everyone,” he explained.

Once he had recovered from his injury, however, O’Hara said the community welcomed him with open arms.

“They went out of their way to make me feel comfortable and welcome,” he said.

To O’Hara, ROTC presented him the best opportunity to live out his desire to serve.

“My whole life growing up, I knew that I wanted to serve and that was really a big part of what being like a good citizen meant to me,” O’Hara said.

O’Hara will be entering active duty and be stationed at Fort Moore in Georgia before moving to Fort Liberty in North Carolina. He plans on going to infantry school, ranger school and then airborne school.

Senior Anne Gentine, a neuroscience major in the army ROTC program, also emphasized her desire to serve, explaining it coincided with her goal of becoming a doctor.

“Growing up, I always had this desire to serve. But I didn't realize at first that I could do it because I wanted to go to med school [and] become a doctor. I didn't realize that the military and that path aligned with one another,” she said. 

Gentine will be joining the national guard where she will be a medical services officer for an infantry battalion for a year. Following this year, she will attend medical school while participating in training for the national guard on the weekends.

Senior Ethan MacMillan, an applied and computational mathematics and statistics major, said he originally joined the ROTC program in order to help pay for college, but grew to enjoy it.

“Through the first year, I started to decide to go active duty and actually enjoy my service,” MacMillan explained. “It was a pretty commonly gritty experience where everyone was not only a good person, but everyone just enjoyed doing hard things and getting through it with each other.”

“Obviously, the money helped, but I kind of learned to seek out my vocation through that,” he said.

MacMillan will join the army on active duty as a cyber warfare officer. He plans to complete a year of training at Fort Eisenhower in Georgia.

Gentine emphasized the challenge and the reward she felt she received from the ROTC program.

“At first, it is very challenging, just getting used to what's expected of you and the discipline and waking up super early for [physical training], but it becomes very rewarding through that,” she said. “I feel like I developed a lot more confidence in myself [and] what I was capable of.”

The ROTC commissioning ceremony will be held at the Debartolo Performing Arts Center Saturday, May 18 at 9 a.m.