The Cadet

By Zachary Block '99 / May / June 2002
June 30th, 2007

An hour before sunrise on a late-February morning Myko Hull '03 sets off down College Hill to catch the day's first crosstown bus to Providence College. Hull battles the early morning frost in a gray sweat suit, a camouflage jacket, and army-green gloves. He carries a rucksack on his back, and slung over his shoulder is a brown leather map case made in Russia. Around him the streets are silent except for the soft patter of his sneakers and the echo of a plastic canteen swinging from the rucksack.

Hull's early morning commute represents a search for a kind of education no longer available at Brown: military training. Out of the University's nearly 5,700 undergraduates, he is its lone ROTC cadet, the last holdover from a program banished from campus thirty-three years ago. Nowadays, the rare Brown student who chooses to enroll in ROTC must, like Hull, travel to the Providence College gym three mornings a week for physical training and one afternoon a week to attend a military-science course. On warm days Hull covers the two-and-a-half-mile trek on his bike. Occasionally he gets a ride from his mother, who lives in North Providence.

A slight twenty-one-year-old with closely cropped brown hair, Hull arrives at the PC gym by six. This semester he and his Army ROTC classmates have been reporting to the gym a half-hour early to practice an important and easily overlooked skill: giving command orders in an authoritative voice. It's part of preparing for an intense five-week camp the cadets will attend this summer at Fort Lewis, Washington, where they will be tested on everything they've learned over the past three years and evaluated as potential officer material.

As Hull prepares to work out, folding his jacket and sweats and stacking them in a neat pile atop his rucksack, he tells a fellow cadet, a junior at PC, about a recent crime wave plaguing Brown.

"My roommate from last year wants to start a militia" to protect students, Hull says.

"Oh, so now they like us," the cadet says with a laugh.


BROWN EFFECTIVELY EVICTED ROTC in March 1969, when faculty members voted to strip the naval and air force units of their departmental status, deny academic credit for their classes, and take professorial rank away from their officers. Although the faculty, by a vote of 115 to 55, had rejected a proposal to ban outright all military education at Brown, the move to transform the academic programs into extracurricular ones violated ROTC's own regulations. As a result, the navy and air force voluntarily departed, and Brown commissioned its last campus-based ROTC cadets in 1972, during the final phase of the Vietnam War.

"What the faculty did then," says Professor of Political Science Elmer Cornwell, who at the time argued in favor of retaining ROTC, "was to vote its preferences, its antimilitary preference. I don't think it was so much that we felt ROTC was a bad thing for a student or was somehow harmful. [The feeling was that] the military is a bad thing, and we don't think Brown should participate in helping the military to acquire new officers."

For many students during the Vietnam era, in fact, ROTC - as well as its cadets - came to symbolize all that was wrong with that war. Anthropology professor David I. Kertzer '69, who was then a student antiwar leader and a member of an ad-hoc committee appointed by University president Ray Heffner to study whether ROTC belonged at Brown, says the students' primary concern "was taking whatever symbolic steps they could to show the opposition of the universities around the country to the U.S. war in Vietnam." Not surprisingly, cadets were often the objects of abuse. "I used to have to pack my uniform in a brown paper bag to walk across campus," says former Navy ROTC cadet Robert "Lon" Shinn '70, '72 a.m., who was elected to represent his fellow cadets in ROTC debates. "If you wore it, you would get stuff thrown at you, or catcalls." Still, a petition asking that ROTC be retained in the curriculum drew more than 900 student signatures.

The issue was emotional and divisive for the faculty as well. Associate Dean of the Faculty William Crossgrove, then a professor of German studies and comparative literature, remembers that the debate revealed a generational divide. Veterans of World War II, he says, tended to be very passionate about military service and clashed with "those who thought military training was not [an] appropriate [part of a] liberal education." In fact, it was on this issue of Brown's character that the debate finally rested, as political arguments gave way to an academic rationale for ending the military program. ROTC, Kertzer argues, "undermined Brown's nature as an independent liberal-arts institution, which was totally autonomous and made its own decisions based on purely academic principles. Instead, [in ROTC] you had a faculty [that] was in part appointed not by Brown but essentially by the military, who were teaching a curriculum that was largely mandated through the military and was meeting military ends."

For their part, ROTC advocates contended that eliminating the program would be particularly burdensome to less-affluent students who were taking advantage of ROTC scholarships. Such students would now be deprived of a financial-aid option. Supporters also rejected the idea that the University's imprimatur should be reserved for academic considerations alone. Should Brown also withdraw its support from the sports program or the Chaplain's Office, neither of which is essential to the University's academic mission? "If you're going to get rid of things on the campus that somehow don't relate to our major concern of giving a liberal education," says Cornwell, "then there are more things than ROTC that can be looked at as less relevant and perhaps expendable."

In fact, veterans of the ROTC program and others argue that both Brown and the country's officer corps would benefit from a closer relationship. Brown's emphasis on a broad, liberal education is precisely the element often lacking in military culture, they contend. Officers trained at universities like Brown, the argument goes, would bring essential critical-thinking skills and a level of sophistication that would expand and deepen the character of the military.

"Liberally trained military officers make better officers than those completely indoctrinated with a military education," says astronaut Byron Lichtenberg '69, a former Air Force ROTC cadet and a Vietnam veteran. For reasons he finds difficult to specify, he says that students at elite academic institutions like Brown are exposed to a wider range of ideas and people, "and that affects how you make decisions later."

When ROTC left campus, Brown's loss was Providence College's gain. In February 1972 a full-page ad in the Brown Daily Herald extolled the benefits of joining PC's Patriot Battalion. "Now there's a course that pays $100 a month," the headline proclaimed. "Army ROTC." In the years since, says Lt. Col. Steven McGonagle, the battalion's commanding officer, Brown students have often been among its best - and least visible - cadets. "Right now they're some of the finest captains and majors in the U.S. Army," he says.

While no one seems to have kept records of the number of Brown students who participated in ROTC at PC during the 1970s and 1980s, the national trend shows that enrollment bottomed out in 1973, according to official U.S. Army ROTC historian Arthur Coumbe. By the mid-1980s, he says, with the military at the height of its Reagan-era buildup, participation in ROTC peaked again. A dozen years later military budgets were slashed, cutting into ROTC numbers. By 2000 the program produced the lowest number of commissioned officers in its history, a low point marked in part by the booming economy and a post-Cold War indifference to all things military.

The available PC statistics echo those trends. In 1992 eleven Brown students, including all the top cadet commanders, received commissions through PC. By 1997 the number of Brown ROTC graduates had dropped to zero, around which it has hovered ever since. (In 1945, by contrast, more than 50 percent of Brown students were in Navy ROTC or other military college training programs.)


BACK AT THE PC GYM, Cadet Hull is preparing to issue orders for today's mock operation: to eliminate a rebel commando force and open up a food supply chain. The purpose of the drill is to give Hull and his cadet classmates an opportunity to practice giving orders so they have some experience when it comes time to lead exercises in the field.

On the gym floor Hull lays out two scone-size triangles of paper representing the two firing teams in his squad. Using smaller scraps of paper, he then divides up the battlefield, a one-foot-by-two-foot square of floor, into imaginary one-hundred-meter segments. A couple of toy soldiers near the five-hundred-meter mark stand in for the rebel force.

Cadet Captain Colin Woods, a PC senior, briefs Hull on the mission and then stands over him as Hull prepares to lead his squad - three fellow cadets who are kneeling around him - through the operation.

"My name is Cadet Hull, and I will be briefing Squad X, Platoon Y this morning," he says, trying to strike a confident tone. Then he details to his squad how they will approach the enemy and where they will engage them. The whole thing takes a couple of minutes.

"Good order, good execution, good command and presence, good voice," Woods tells Hull.

Lieutenant Colonel McGonagle, the commanding officer, strolls over. "You know, it's 80 percent delivery, eye contact, strong voice, presentation," McGonagle tells Hull, who is now standing at attention, his shoulders squared and his hands behind his back. "Your delivery was looking good."

McGonagle's reassuring tone is typical of today's ROTC approach, which, aside from the camouflage clothing and military code, is much like a typical coaching session at a university athletic department. Gone are the days of red necks, bulging veins, and gobs of spit flying into the faces of intimidated cadets. The cadets tease one another - a senior makes fun of Hull for wearing so many layers of clothing - but the only yelling comes from cadets encouraging their partners to complete more push-ups or sit-ups. A ROTC officer even reassures a young female cadet who is having trouble keeping up with the rest of the freshmen and sophomores as they run laps.

No guns are visible anywhere. "We try not to carry weapons on campus," Hull says. "There's really no reason to get scary on campus."

After some stretching, which Hull leads because the scheduled platoon sergeant has called in sick, the junior and senior cadets, along with a few officers, head off for a two-mile run. First they pause on the concrete outside the gym for a quick round of push-ups done with military precision. Eighteen minutes later the group ambles back into the gym. Soon they are parading in formation around the gray track. They chant in time with their steps:


I hear the choppers coming.
They're flying overhead.
They've come to get the wounded.
They've come to get the dead.

Before the cadets are dismissed, they review plans for a training exercise scheduled for the coming weekend at Fort Devens in Ayer, Massachusetts. They'll practice land navigation, using maps and compasses to find markers in the woods. Later they'll don combat gear, including M16s with blanks, for a simulated peacekeeping mission.

"It should be a good time," Cadet First Lieutenant Adam Seibel, a PC senior, tells the juniors. "We've got some good ammo. We've got some good weapons."


MOST BROWN STUDENTS now have no idea that ROTC is still available to them. "It would take a considerable amount of research on the part of an enterprising student to find out about it," says Dean of the College Paul Armstrong, whose office coordinates relations with ROTC. Indeed, in a February 7 memo to President Simmons on ROTC, Armstrong and Vice President for Campus Life Janina Montero wrote that "it is a small miracle that there is even one Brown student [who] has discovered it."

Before beginning their junior year, all Brown students once received letters from the Dean of the College's office explaining the program and how to contact the PC ROTC commander. But sometime during the early 1990s the responsibility of informing Brown students about the program was transferred to ROTC, and the dialogue faded away, along with student interest.

This, Armstrong points out, is not necessarily an unusual arrangement. Students at Columbia, Dartmouth, Harvard, and Yale must all leave campus to attend ROTC, although some of those schools provide transportation to the off-campus sites. Cornell, Penn, and Princeton all have some form of ROTC on campus. Wherever the program is physically located, all ROTC cadets on scholarship receive tuition, money for books, and a monthly stipend. Many schools, like PC and Rhode Island's Bryant College, also chip in by covering room and board. In exchange, after graduation the cadets owe the military four years of active service and four years of reserve duty.

Some students secure four-year scholarships before they even set foot on campus. Grants are also awarded to students who participated in the ROTC program before pledging themselves to military service. McGonagle says he has ten four-year scholarships to hand out each year, three or four of which he'd like to see go to Brown students. He has even more two- and three-year scholarships. "I've got more money than I can give away," McGonagle says.

Last year thirty-three high school students who applied for ROTC scholarships indicated that they also intended to apply to Brown, although McGonagle says Brown would not tell him whether or not they had actually applied. In the end McGonagle offered scholarships to the top four candidates. None was admitted to Brown. The applicants were so strong that McGonagle's commander, a two-star general, asked to see their files so he could try to deduce why they hadn't gotten in. McGonagle speculated that perhaps Brown admission policy was biased against ROTC. "I didn't know what else to suspect," he says.

After meeting with Director of Admission Michael Goldberger earlier this year, however, McGonagle says he has a better idea of why the students were rejected and a stronger sense of the type of student Brown admits. Although the University won't reveal who it plans to admit, McGonagle says that Goldberger is now willing to tell him whether his top candidates have applied. He says the admission office is also helping steer him toward candidates who have the best chance of acceptance.

In a written response to questions, Goldberger says that Brown and ROTC do in fact have some common preferences. Both look for "things like leadership, community service, academic achievement," Goldberger writes, adding that an interest in ROTC does not factor into whether or not a student is admitted. Brown's low admission rate, he adds, often makes people "wonder if we have something against a particular group."


IS INTEREST IN ROTC on the rise since September 11? Perhaps slightly. At least four colleges, including the University of Maryland, have begun the process of establishing Army ROTC programs since last fall, and inquiries are up, says Army ROTC spokesman Paul Kotakis. Enrollment in that program, he says, is up 5 percent. At Brown the administration has taken several steps this year to raise ROTC's on-campus profile. For the first time in recent memory, information about the program was included in freshman mailings, and the financial-aid home page now links to the Patriot Battalion Web site. Armstrong has also asked the registrar to include a paragraph about ROTC in the student-services section of the University Bulletin, the biannual catalog of University courses and activities.

For now "I am the ROTC program," says Hull, whose soft-spoken manner and boyish charm seem incongruous with his role as Brown's only cadet. When he's not training, Hull plays the bass drum in the Brown band and is a regular at the contra dances held in Faunce House on Friday nights; he also tries to make it to church every Sunday.

Despite perceptions of Brown as antimilitary, Hull says he doesn't feel particularly out of place on campus in uniform. "People don't really stare at you," he says. "It's Brown, and everybody looks distinctive. Showing up [at class] in camouflage is maybe toward the tamer end of wardrobe choice." He jokes that one ironic side effect of being in uniform is that he tends to get called on more frequently in class. "The idea is to make you invisible," he says, "but when you're the only one wearing [fatigues], it tends to make you stand out a little bit more."

ROTC veteran Rob Cybulski '00 says most students and faculty reacted with "shock and surprise" when they learned he was in ROTC. But he says the response was one of curiosity rather than animosity. He rarely wore his army uniform on campus, because on the rare occasion when he did, people would stop and stare. "It wasn't worth making a spectacle of myself," he said in a phone interview from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where he is stationed with the 82nd Airborne.

Although Hull does not come from a military background, he traces his interest in military service to his mother's family, which fled the Ukraine during the Soviet occupation following World War II. At the time Hull's Ukrainian Catholic ancestors were given the choice of atheism or conversion to the Russian Orthodox church. The family chose escape, although Hull's great-grandfather, a priest, decided to stay behind with his wife and parishioners. Hull's mother was born in a displaced-persons camp in Germany. This personal history of religious persecution, he says, "makes you appreciate how lucky we are to live in a place where you don't have to worry about the police or the army coming and saying, 'All right, you believe in this. Off to Siberia with you' - and how that's really something special and something worth defending."

Hull says that, contrary to what many people might think, ROTC is not just about firing guns and playing soldier. While in high school in Florida he became fascinated with the iconic image of a U.S. soldier giving a little boy candy during World War II, which underscores, he says, that "the army has a unique ability to bring peace to places, to separate warring parties, like we're doing in Bosnia and Kosovo, to make life better for that little kid." He adds, "They say all Brown students want to save the world. I like to think this is a pretty good way to do that."

A Slavic-studies concentrator, Hull hopes to work in military intelligence as part of the Foreign Area Officer program. Ideally, he'd like to be stationed at an embassy in Russia or another country in the former Soviet Union. For now, though, Hull believes ROTC has helped him in more immediate ways. It has increased his self-confidence, he says, and trained him to sharpen his time-management skills, "something you learn whether you want to or not when you have to get up three times a week at 5 a.m. and then not sleep through classes for the rest of the day."

Hull wasn't always alone at PC. For two years, Vincent Capaldi '03 sweated with him in morning workouts. Capaldi joined ROTC after answering a call for his sister from a military recruiter. As with Hull, his first two years in ROTC came with no scholarship and no commitment, a practice that allows cadets the freedom to try out the program before committing to service after graduation. Last fall Capaldi was offered a scholarship, but he turned it down. Unwilling to commit to so many years in the service, he instead signed on with the U.S. Army Medical Department, which pays for a year of medical school in exchange for one year of military service.

Like Hull, Capaldi says he never felt any hostility from Brown students because of his military affiliation. "They were actually, 'Wow, that's great,' " he says. In fact, the only negative comments Capaldi received came from a dean, who, he says, called the army "a bunch of baby killers." "I just laughed at him," Capaldi recalls. In fact, he adds, ROTC helped break down his stereotypes about the military. "Going in I thought it was going to be Full Metal Jacket," he says. "It gave me confidence in what the military stands for and that they're not a bunch of gun-toting lunatics. They teach more like the business world. It was like being in a company, learning leadership skills. They weren't yelling at you or screaming at you. It was very civil."

Although students may be friendlier to ROTC than they were thirty years ago, the Brown faculty is standing firm on its rejection of military science as an appropriate discipline at a school such as Brown. They last reaffirmed that stance in 1983, and the chances that the issue will come up for a vote again any time soon seem to be nil. "I don't really see a need to bring it to the faculty again," Armstrong says,"because the program that we've got seems to serve the students' needs and I'm not sure what would be gained. Faculty members are not coming to me and saying, 'We really need to revisit this.' "

David Kertzer agrees. Any alumni who want to see ROTC reinstated at Brown shouldn't "be holding their breath," he says. "It's unimaginable to me that the faculty would ever vote in any significant number to bring back ROTC, at least under the same terms we were talking about then, where they have their own department and they get to appoint their own faculty."

For his part, Hull says it would be nice to get credit for the extra class he carries each semester. But it would be even better to share his experience with fellow Brown students. "As good friends as the guys from PC are," he says, "they can't really understand what it's like to be a Brown student and be in ROTC."

Zachary Block is the BAM's staff writer.
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