I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same," 17 ROTC cadets from the University of Maryland swore as they raised their right hands in front of the very Constitution they were pledging to protect. Some were combat veterans, but most were college freshmen, barely a week into their first semester.
It's an oath that has varied over the years, but the principles behind it -- duty, loyalty, service, devotion, sacrifice -- are older than the Constitution itself. Those principles date back to 1775, when Colonial rebels first joined the burgeoning Continental Army, swearing their allegiance to protect and defend the 13 Colonies, and eventually renouncing their ties to King George III.
They're the same tenets Lt. Col. Sam Cook, commander of the Terrapin Battalion at the University of Maryland, tries to nurture in the cadets from day one: "The first thing we try to instill in them is the Army's core values, making sure they understand the values, how that forms a basis of who a Soldier is, and how we try to live and uphold these values in everything that we do, whether we're on duty or off duty, or out executing a mission.
"What better place to do it than right there, in front of the U.S. Constitution?" Cook asked shortly before conducting the ceremony at the National Archives in Washington. He also holds battalion runs along the National Mall past war monuments, and takes the cadets on a tour of the Tomb of the Unknowns and other parts of Arlington National Cemetery.
"We try to hit home with, 'I appreciate you making this commitment,' and then just starting at Arlington, where those who have gone before us, our fallen heroes, have been laid to rest, using that to kind of signify the importance of their decision: 'Hey, here's what we're doing as leaders of our men and women, America's treasure. We want you to be the best that you can possibly be so you can make these great decisions.' Maybe one day, their decisions could prevent some type of accident or injury or even fatality."
"It's the biggest sense of pride I've had in my life," Cadet Austin Gillens said of the swearing in. Gillens is an Air Force brat, and many of his aunts, uncles and cousins are in the military as well. His recently deceased grandfather's dog tags are his most prized possessions. "You see all the people who have given their lives, and I know people who are veterans who have also given their time and their efforts to the military. So you're taking the same oath that (they) took, and you kind of feel the weight of it. And you have a lot of respect for everyone who's gone through the same process as you."
That's the exact response Cook, who in 2010 initiated the Constitution swearing in, hoped to garner. Sgt. John Donelson, a veteran of operations in Afghanistan, was especially moved, and he had already sworn a similar oath in basic training.
"I've always been very happy to be in the United States and enjoy the freedoms I've had, but coming from Afghanistan, I'm able to see that just the little things of having running water, having a way to manage trash removal -- these very basic things that make our lives convenient -- aren't actually true for (all) governments," he said. "That we have a system that allows us to be as free as we are is incredible to me. It just makes me want to go to work and do the best I can.
"This is something that's really in my heart, and when I see these documents, it really brings a sense of awe and inspiration. (It) makes me feel that I am actually doing something to continue what was started by our Founding Fathers … the idea of having individual freedoms," he continued.
Prior-service cadets like Donalson, who joined ROTC under the Green to Gold program, make up about 20 percent of the battalion. According to Cadet Command, Green to Gold benefits vary slightly depending on how many years of college Soldiers need to complete and their GI Bill benefits, but generally include tuition or room and board assistance, as well as a stipend for books and other materials. Soldiers with two remaining years of college or graduate school also have the option to remain on active duty and receive full pay and allowances while in school, or drill with the National Guard or Reserve under the Simultaneous Membership Program and receive a monthly stipend and sergeant pay.
Eligible Soldiers must: be U.S. citizens, and under age 31 as of Dec. 31 in the year they will finish school, have served a minimum of two years on active duty, have a minimum Armed Service Vocational Aptitude General Technical score of 110 and a cumulative high school or college grade point average of 2.5, have been accepted to college and the school's ROTC program, be eligible to re-enlist and have no more than three dependents. Division commanders can also nominate two deserving Soldiers for two-year Green to Gold scholarships each year.
Soldiers in the ROTC program serve as invaluable resources to their non-prior-service peers, said Cook, who is prior enlisted himself. He explained that cadets can turn to the Green to Gold Soldiers for guidance on everything from standing at attention to land navigation to what combat is actually like, and get different perspectives than the cadre's. "All the Green to Gold cadets know just so much that I don't know," added Cadet Diana Arbaugh, who plans to become a military psychologist. "They'll always come over and be 'Oh, you should stand like this, not like this.' I'm just absorbing it all right now."
Unlike Arbaugh, who began thinking about the Army as a junior in high school, ROTC was a longtime dream for Cody Hanse, who hopes to go into the infantry upon his commissioning. Finally getting his acceptance was thrilling, as was putting on the Army Combat Uniform for the first time. "It was comfortable, actually. I loved it. I've been waiting to get it for so long, and to finally put the uniform on and look at myself in the mirror was a crazy feeling, but it was a great feeling," he said.
"He looks good," Hanse's mother, Debbie, added before the ceremony, noting that he stood a little straighter than usual. "He reminds me of the little boy in the backyard when he used to … play Army." One of the things that impressed her most was that Cook and other cadre were always happy to meet with parents and go over the cadets' commitments and requirements.
Besides meeting acceptance requirements at individual universities, ROTC scholarship recipients must be U.S. citizens between ages 17 and 26, with a high school diploma or equivalent and a cumulative GPA of at least 2.5. They also must score a minimum of 920 on the SAT (or 19 on the ACT), meet physical fitness standards and pass a medical exam. They incur an eight-year service commitment, with at least the first four on active duty.
The cadets are students first, Cook stressed, noting that the most important prerequisite to becoming an officer is to have a degree. The cadets still have to report for physical training at 6 or 6:30 four mornings a week, however -- not an easy task for college students pulling all-nighters. They're exercising "heart muscles," Cook said, explaining that it "shows their level of commitment, their level of dedication."
The hardest part about it, senior and Cadet Capt. Mark Thomas said, is actually getting out of bed -- that and listening to other students complain about waking up for an 8 a.m. class when he's up at 4:45 every morning. Thomas is a fitness nut, and was attracted by the Army's emphasis on physical and mental toughness.
He received the highest overall physical fitness score out of about 5,643 cadets in Cadet Command's 2011 Leader Development and Assessment Course. Thomas performed 99 push-ups and 104 sit-ups in two minutes each, and ran two miles in less than 11 minutes. This makes him the top ranked cadet for physical fitness in the nation, which he said is "a pretty cool feeling."
In addition, Thomas, whose dream is to lead a Sapper engineering platoon, runs the Army 10-miler each year and served as the captain of the Terrapin Battalion's 2011 Ranger Challenge team. Considered the "varsity sport" of ROTC, Ranger Challenge is similar to the Army's Best Warrior Competition and includes a physical fitness test, casualty assessment, weapons check, intelligence report and a surprise commander's challenge event that involves strength, intelligence and agility.
The winner for each brigade (about 39 schools) goes on to the international Sandhurst Competition at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. Although the Terrapin team came in second in their brigade this year, they did win in 2010.
"It's a lot of training, but it was really cool to be able to compete with teams from not only all over the country, but all over the world," Thomas said of participating in Sandhurst in 2010. "There were teams there from Canada and England. I think even Chile had a team. I think Afghanistan sent a team. It was awesome just seeing people from all over the world compete in the same competition.
All of these opportunities and successes -- unimaginable when Cook was an ROTC cadet -- make it easier to recruit highly qualified candidates, Cook pointed out, noting that the most rewarding part of his job is watching the cadets grow as leaders and attain their goals.
"These kids come here with a sense of purpose and focus, laser-sharp focus. They know what they want to do," Cook said. "They know where they're headed, and doing Army ROTC provides a structure for them to enforce and develop discipline.
"They see this as something honorable, as a life's dream. It's a burning desire for them. You can see the fire in their eyes. … You can see the excitement."
Editor's note: For more information, visit the Army ROTC and University of Maryland Army ROTC websites at http://www.goarmy.com/rotc.html and http://www.armyrotc.umd.edu/index.html, or download the Maryland Army ROTC app on your smartphone. You can also learn more about LDAC in the July 2011 issue of Soldiers magazine at http://www.army.mil/article/60767/Army_cadets_train/.
IMMIGRANT CADET RISES TO THE TOP
Mariya Golotyuk may not be a typical Army ROTC cadet, but as a hardworking immigrant determined to make a better life for herself and her children, she is what the United States is all about.
As a child of four in the Soviet Union, she was selected for the Olympic School for Acrobatics and competed all over Eastern Europe doing "flips and handstands in (her) sleep" while living first with her grandmother and later in a Soviet School for Sport dormitory. Then, when she was 13, an injury during practice left her in a hospital bed for five months. Doctors forbade further acrobatics, so she turned to tennis and academics.
Golotyuk lived in an "ugly block housing built by the state" in Kramatorsk, Ukraine -- a "small, gray Soviet town polluted with factory soot." When the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, and Ukraine gained its independence, she had to go from speaking Russian to Ukrainian practically overnight to later qualify for a degree in math and physics at the Technical University of Kiev.
"Just one day we woke up and Russian literature was like a foreign literature," Golotuyuk remembered, comparing Ukrainian to a cross between Russian and Polish, which, as the child of a Russian mother and Polish-Czech father, she also speaks, along with Czech. "All the languages are pretty close. If you speak slowly, you can kind of figure out what it is."
She's also fluent in German and English, although she didn't learn English until a few years ago when she moved to the States to coach tennis at Trinity College in San Antonio. Texas, however, with its heat and wide-open plains, was a drastic change for Golotyuk, who was used to cosmopolitan, forested Europe, so she looked for a compromise.
Today, the single mother of two young boys is not only a U.S. citizen with degrees in economics and accounting from the University of Maryland, College Park, she's pursuing a master's degree in accounting. In addition, Golotyuk is a sergeant in the Maryland National Guard and her cadet battalion's commander.
She also happens to be the highest ranked cadet in the nation.
"In ROTC, I started last year," she recalled. "I went as enlisted in the National Guard and liked it a lot. It was really unusual for me when I heard that the military here is open for females, where in my country it is quite different. As a female you can actually move yourself forward into a leadership position, which is what I was looking for.
"ROTC worked perfectly for me. I looked at it while I was undergrad, but I … didn't have my citizenship. I had to wait five years. That's why I joined as enlisted, just to see how it is, what it is. I got to basic (training) and loved it. The discipline was there already," she continued.
Unlike many of her fellow cadets (who entered the University of Maryland as freshmen with ROTC scholarships), as a graduate student, Golotyuk will be commissioned with only two years of ROTC under her belt. She was concerned with fitting in and getting up to speed when she joined the battalion in 2010, so despite her full-time job and graduate classes, she signed up for as many activities as she could.
The color guard team, she explained, helped her give back to ROTC and the university, and she gained a big-picture understanding of what the military is about. While on the Ranger Challenge team (a military skills competition for cadets) she was able to bond with fellow cadets and hone her skills.
So when Golotyuk attended Cadet Command's four-week Leader Development and Assessment Course over the summer (crammed between two summer sessions of classes), she was looking to do something similar, to take advantage of every opportunity she was offered.
"Don't just do whatever's asked," she said. "Just being a part of this group for the whole year last year and the opportunities -- they give you stuff, but they don't push it really into you. … And they're kind of 'OK, you can do this.' There's so many things that they crowd the table with just for you to reach out and take it.
"When I went to LDAC, I figured out how much (more) we were prepared compared to all the other schools. We were doing extra land navigation courses, and all that stuff. I wanted to do as much as possible."
Cadets, her ROTC commander, Lt. Col. Sam Cook, explained, are evaluated at the end of their junior years based on grade point averages, different leadership positions, physical fitness scores and land navigation and other military tasks from LDAC. Golotyuk knew her individual scores from each event, but Cadet Command had to compile the scores of about 5,643 cadets over several sessions of LDAC, so the rankings weren't available until late September. Golotyuk was shocked to discover she came out on top.
"I came here and Lt. Col. Cook was looking at the paper, smiling all the way," she remembered. (Forty percent of Maryland's graduating class of cadets ranked in the top 20 percent of all cadets, qualifying as distinguished military graduates.) "He's like, 'Well, congratulations. Number one.' I almost fell out of the chair. I was like 'Oh my God. What is he saying?' I had a long day of work that day. It actually did take me a couple days to take it in. 'Really? How did that happen? Oh my God.' I was surprised. I was sitting at the table like 'Oh, OK. Nice. Nice,' thinking about my schoolwork, work … and then people (who were in LDAC with you) start texting you because the results are published in other schools.
"They all started texting me: 'Congratulations!'
"'Thank you! Thank you!' It was exciting. That week was really busy."
As the highest-ranked cadet, Golotyuk was almost guaranteed her branch of choice, military intelligence. At press time, however, she was unsure if she would be able to change her original National Guard contract to an active-duty contract. She wants to, though. It's her way of repaying the nation that has given her so much.
"I got to this country -- I invested a lot of time working in U.S.," she said. "I saw it give back to me, like right away. I spent a lot of time in my country. I competed for Soviet Union and I competed for (Ukraine). I did a lot of stuff, and then at the end of the day, they kick you out without even saying 'Thank You.'
"When I got here, I wasn't even planning to stay. But things worked out for me. People offered me to stay. They say, 'We like the way you work. We need the skills. We need that.' I went to school. I applied. I got a scholarship. From the givebacks that I got here, without having anything, that was my giveback. … This is my way of saying 'Thank you.'"
Editor's note: For more information about LDAC, look for the July 2011 issue of Soldiers magazine, or find the article at http://www.army.mil/article/60767/Army_cadets_train/.