By Roland Hesmondhalgh, Public Affairs InternDecember 27, 2017
Since its founding in 1916, the Reserve Officer Training Corps has led innumerable men and women to the Oath of Commissioned Officers. Over months and years, it shapes these young adults into the next generation of officers in the United States military.
Not everyone who enters ROTC knows why they're drawn to it. Some may see it as nothing more than an academic distraction; for others, a tradition or calling. It's rare for a college student to instinctively know where they feel they belong. It's rarer still for a student to feel that way about military discipline, especially when they were born half a world away.
Cadet Ivan "Chernobyl" Chernokolpakov, of Florida Institute of Technology's Panther Battalion, came to America from Kiev, Ukraine, at the age of 10 with his mother. Early on, Chernokolpakov struggled without a sense of purpose until deciding on a whim to try JROTC.
"When I was choosing my [high school] classes, my friend decided he wanted to join the Army JROTC. I didn't know what I'd do with my life, so I decided why not join?" said Chernokolpakov. "From then on I started having more goals as I kept going through high school because of JROTC."
Accustomed to the regimented discipline, camaraderie, and clarity of purpose he received from his time in JROTC, he immediately joined Army ROTC following his acceptance to the Florida Institute of Technology. After establishing his GPA, Chernokolpakov easily qualified for a ROTC scholarship.
"They're very good about taking care of you," he said. "If you give ROTC your effort they will give you their effort to keep you there."
In just three semesters with Florida Tech, Cadet Chernokolpakov has completed U.S. Combatives 1 and 2, and earned the coveted Air Assault Wings. To earn his wings, he had to flawlessly rappel out of a helicopter hovering 90-feet above ground and complete a 12-mile road march in under three hours. Cadet Chernokolpakov displays the wings proudly on his uniforms, but remembers them not so much for his success, but for how hard they were to earn - and how important it is to maintain your equipment, especially in Air Assault School.
"You have a list of items that you always have to have on you. During day one layout, if you don't have everything, then you get kicked out. I didn't bring a canteen cup, but working through it I was able to get a canteen cup that day. As a punishment I had to write a 2,000-word essay on the importance of having your equipment."
The discipline and authority of military life isn't for everyone, but thankfully for Chernokolpakov it's not exclusive to people who've had the luxury of being born in the United States. Anyone willing to work hard and try their best can succeed in ROTC and find a future in the United States Army as a commissioned officer.
"In Ukraine there's really no future for a person unless you have connections," said Chernokolpakov. "For me, the reason I wanted to join was because this country gave me a lot and I wanted to give back."