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Living the ROTC way

A line of cadets from BGSU’s ROTC battalion stand facing an intimidating task on a cool October morning at the Camp Perry training facility in Port Clinton, Ohio.

Perched in a control tower behind them, Master Sergeant Nathan Aguinaga instructs the group to maintain the correct shooting posture.

He doesn’t want to be out all day, he says into the tower microphone.

But no matter what he wants, long days are typical in the lives of the officers and cadets in the Fighting Falcon Battalion.

On this day, the cadets, dressed in their camouflage uniforms, combat boots, and helmets, lay in the grass and brace their elbows on wooden supports. They begin to fire rounds at the paper targets pinned to upright wooden boards. Only a few “zero” this time, meaning they hit 5 out of 6 rounds within a 4 centimeter circle.

Nearby, senior Matthew Swaney sits at a picnic table with two of his older comrades, loading the rifle magazines with rounds and remembering the training he had to go through before he became a student leader in the ROTC program. The training staff sends cadets who have zeroed in to Swaney.

Walking in a single-file line, the cadets approach

Swaney and present him with their targets pierced with clusters of bullet holes. Swaney quickly examines each and they sit, relaxing in the bleachers.

Their fellow cadets fire round after round, striving to hit their targets so they can all move on to the “qual range,” where they will attempt to hit moving, human-shaped targets.

Freshman cadet CJ Morgan zeros after a few tries and gets to move on to the “qual range” with the others. A handful of other cadets stay behind and continue to try to zero on the targets.

For Morgan, it’s just another day at the military base.

“I’m an army brat,” he said. “I’ve moved around all my life. I knew I wanted to go into the military.”

Born in Germany, he also lived in Oklahoma, Korea and Michigan before coming to school in Ohio.

Morgan respects what the BGSU officers are trying to teach him through the program.

“Their primary goal is for us to succeed,” he says. “It’s supposed to be learning, not learning to kill, but just learning how to operate things and just learning what they’ve got to teach us.”

And to help them succeed, the ROTC program puts its cadets through some intense training. In addition to a specialized training day each semester, cadets have to participate in hour-long physical training sessions at 0700 hours – or 7 a.m. – three times a week, when the cadets will run, do push-ups and sit-ups, and sometimes play games like ultimate frisbee or football.

The ROTC program isn’t always serious. During rifle training, Aguinaga would sing parts of the Backstreet Boys’ song “I Want It That Way,” into the control tower microphone.

Major Steven Letzring, commander of the battalion, served in Iraq before coming to Bowling Green more than a year ago.

No matter what, it’s important to enjoy what you’re doing, he said.

“You can be focused…but still have a good time doing it,” Letzring said.

Even though they try to have fun, the program is a serious time commitment. In addition to physical and technical training, cadets are also expected to attend classes, both through the ROTC program and to earn their degrees at BGSU.

And after college, the time commitment becomes even greater. Some graduates will spend years serving in the Army National Guard, while others will go into active duty.

Iraq is often on the minds of those in the program. Some cadets, like Morgan have always planned to enlist in the military. There’s a sense that it’s the right thing to do, that there’s an inherent duty to serve one’s country.

To others, ROTC is simply a way to pay for school.

Money is often the primary draw for college students who look into going into the program, Letzring said. But a person has to have other reasons for going into it in order to be successful in the program.

“If all you’re looking at is a way to pay for college, this isn’t right for you,” he said.

For Swaney, the ROTC program is simply where he fits in.

“I just thrive in this type of environment,” he said.

Swaney likes the structure the military offers.

Because he has thrived in the ROTC, Swaney’s family members have come to terms with his decision to join the Army.

“Honestly, my parents did not want me to do this.” he said.

His mother fears her son will be hurt.

“She does not like the idea of her son being trained to be sent off to war,” he said. “She’s my mother, and any mother will have that about a child. But yet, with that I think we have grown close because she’s also my best friend.”

Swaney has also been affected by the opposition of others to him being in the Army.

One day someone called him “baby killer” as he walked across campus.

Fortunately, these negative comments are rare in his life. Though he’s heard horror stories from other cadets, Swaney said he hasn’t experienced negativity toward the military in the classroom.

When Swaney thinks about going to Iraq to serve in the infantry, he has mixed emotions. But mostly, he believes that it’s important for the military to get the job done. And he knows he’s ready to fight.

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