By Andrew Pete
They wake up earlier than most students, beginning their day at 6 a.m. with drills and exercise, and can be seen walking around campus in identical apparel.
These select students are not missionaries for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, although a majority of them served missions; they are cadets for two of the biggest ROTC programs in the nation.
Waking up early to perform physical drills and wearing a uniform around campus is not stopping students from signing up for the BYU ROTC program, as BYU is the largest non-military school for the Army ROTC and fourth largest for the Air Force. Military recruiters offer scholarships, leadership training and the occasional paintball training to help motivate students to be involved in the program.
So what does it take to be a cadet for such a program?
“It takes dedication for sure because if you don”t want to be here you are going to wash out,” said Paige Johnson, a senior from Prescott, Ariz. and one of the few female Air Force cadets. “For us who stay in the program, we become really close.”
With weekly leadership labs and frequent early morning exercises, cadets spend a lot of time together.
For the Air Force that means waking up at 6 a.m. twice a week to participate in physical training (PT) and for the Army, three times a week. The trainings are one hour and involve running, push-ups, sit-ups and other physical activities.
“I”m not a morning person, but when you get into the pattern of it, you get used to it,” said cadet Tom Sundwall-Byers, an Army ROTC cadet and a junior studying Middle Eastern studies and Arabic from Lodi, Calif. “PT makes us more effective soldiers and helps make us physically fit to perform our duties as soldiers.”
These mornings are also designed to help cadets prepare for monthly physical fitness tests that each student is required to pass. Some of the requirements include doing a minimum of 40 push-ups in two minutes and running two miles in less than 17 minutes.
Besides becoming physically fit, cadets attend weekly leadership labs and classes. The labs teach students basic leadership techniques and skills that prepare students to enter the military as officers after graduation.
Cadet Johnson said that she has no regrets in joining the Air Force ROTC program and looks forward to graduating and becoming a commissioned officer. She was recently promoted to wing commander of the BYU detachment, which makes her the fourth female wing commander since 1953 to be awarded that position at BYU.
She said she attributes her success in the program to her hard work.
Advisors only require cadets to attend the morning PTs, the weekly leadership labs and classes. However, cadets often volunteer more of their time to participate in extracurricular ROTC programs, such as the cannon crew at the home football games and the Air Force honor guard.
“We are not here to monopolize students” time,” said Captain Christopher Walker, commandant of cadets for the Air Force ROTC. “Our number one priority is grades on campus, it is not the ROTC.”
According to ROTC headquarters, the BYU Air Force detachment is ranked number one in the nation for highest GPA among all ROTC programs. Depending on the year in school for a cadet, the amount of time that a cadet is required to participate in the program fluctuates.
A first or second year cadet will spend 8 hours a week performing ROTC duties, while a third and fourth year cadet will spend anywhere from 10 to 15 hours, said Cadet Sundwall-Byers of the Army ROTC. The mission of both programs is to help students become leaders and to serve the university.
“The cadets are an important part of the academic life here at BYU,” said Major Greg Weisler, a scholarship and enrollment officer for the BYU Army ROTC. “We have a responsibility to the university.”