At a time in the United States when war appears inevitable, several students at Portland State University are participating in military training. As protesters take to the streets and the U.S. government continues to press forward with plans to attack the Middle East, some students involved in military reserve programs face the possibility of being deployed.
Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) at the University of Portland trained more than 270 students enlisted in the Army and Air Force programs last year. Approximately 10 percent of those currently enrolled are PSU students who commute to the University of Portland campus to participate in training exercises.
Officer’s training includes field exercises, instruction, classes and, in later training, leadership laboratory and exercise planning. The rigorous program prepares university students for their role as officers when they leave college, and recruiters look for scholarly athletic leaders to participate, Major Patrick Christian from UP ROTC said.
However, despite their training and key role in the U.S. military, ROTC trainees don’t often face the threat of immediate deployment. Due to the amounts of time and money that are invested in participating students, military officials prefer to allow them to finish their training, said Christian.
“If they are a junior or senior, then taxpayers have too much invested,” he said. “I think the last time ROTC students were pulled out of school was during the Civil War.”
A situation that allows ROTC students to be called away from their studies arises if they are enrolled in both ROTC and the reserves.
One such incident occurred last year when Ryan Estill, a sophomore at PSU, served in Afghanistan as part of a medical evacuation unit. Based out of Salem, Estill was eager for the opportunity and spent last spring and summer overseas.
Though some students involved in ROTC might prefer immediate deployment, few end up participating in combat.
“Let’s say we commission 30 students next year,” he said. “Only six or seven of them will be combat arms, the rest will be support staff. For every front-line fighter it takes two or three supporting staff.”
Support staff assume a wide range of roles, from medicine to communication, and many cadets choose to enter those fields, Christian said.
Enrollment in the ROTC program shows that while 43 percent of students involved are female, nearly half choose to enter into the nursing program. Christian said that despite officials’ attempts at diversifying the students who choose to go into nursing, the program is still predominantly female.
Some students involved in ROTC training are unsure about their feelings regarding the possible war in Iraq. Cadet Second Lieutenant and ASPSU senator, Joe Johnson, said that while he always wanted to join the military, he still experiences reservations from time to time.
“Every day more and more of my friends are deployed,” he said. “Some have jobs and families, and it’s hard to see them go for three to six months. It makes me think, ‘Well, it’s almost imminent.'”
Johnson said that though he is worried about friends and acquaintances, there is not much chance that he will face deployment as a ROTC junior.
“I’d say there’s probably a zero percent chance,” he said. “The way the military sees it, they’d rather have an officer in a year than an enlisted right now.”
Some have experienced negative repercussions because of their decision to serve. One E-4-ranked senior airman (who preferred to remain anonymous) described an incident in which someone shot at his car while he was wearing his reserve uniform.
“I was driving home from working at the airport, post 9-11, and someone came along the side of my car on I-84,” he said. “They put a couple of rounds in.”
The PSU junior and geography major still feels strongly about his commitment to the military.
“It’s kind of clich퀌�, but we’re here to serve and protect,” he said.
As a member of the national reserves, he is at greater risk of deployment than students in ROTC.
“It’s hard to say if I’ll go (to war). There’s uncertainty right now,” he said. “But if the shit hits the fan, and if it lingers, then I’ll probably go for a few months.”
Students at PSU who are already involved in military programs may face danger on the battlefield, but rumors circulating about the draft have others on campus alarmed.
Christian said despite concerned speculation, there is no need for worry.
“There is no way there will be a draft,” he said. “We don’t want anybody with us that doesn’t really, really want to be there. It’s too dangerous. We don’t even like the idea of the draft; it’s like saying ‘income taxes’ to a Republican.”
Though Christian confidently dismissed the possibility of an upcoming draft, Kay Fristad, deputy public affairs officer from the Oregon Military Department, tentatively acknowledged that a draft is not an impossibility.
“You never know, things could always change,” she said. “It’s not around anymore, but people do register for it. There’s a chance that people could be called to protect the nation.”
Fristad agreed that, despite the slight possibility, the likelihood of a draft is not great, and urged Oregon citizens not to be needlessly concerned.
“Tell people, ‘Don’t worry about things ahead of time,’ okay?”