Following a brief scare of a Tri-College legacy being shut down, the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program that serves NDSU, MSUM and Concordia, the “Bison Battalion,” will be given a two-year probationary period to prove their importance to the U.S. Army in hopes that the program will remain open.
On Oct. 2, the U.S. Army announced closure of 13 ROTC programs over two years. The “Bison Battalion” was targeted because it didn’t produce the average 15 graduate officers per year.
When the closure was announced, MSUM President Edna Szymanski said, “we’re not going down without a fight.” She recognized the importance of the ROTC program for students who would like a career in the military and said individuals should be able to enroll in the program and be students at MSUM.
Since the decision, Szymanski contacted members of Minnesota’s congressional delegation, urging them to fight for the battalion, and also stayed in regular contact with NDSU’s President Dean Bresciani.
Less than a week after the announcement was made, representatives from North Dakota and Minnesota wrote to John McHugh, secretary of the U.S. Army, urging reconsideration and asking for clarification on the decision. The letter stated: “these programs offer a value to their communities, students and to the Army that has not been accurately calculated.”
MSUM’s student senate also decided to take action, creating the ROTC task force. The task force planned to start a student petition against the closure and write to representatives for their support. However, the announcement to keep the program open, “came as a surprise, before the task force could take action,” Joao Cunha, diversity chair of the student senate, said in an email. Instead of rallying for support, the task force will be writing thank you letters to Senators (Heidi) Heitkamp and (John) Hoeven and Representative (Kevin) Cramer for their support.
Senators Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken and Congressman Collin Peterson said in a letter to McHugh that the Bison Battalion ranked third in the Third Brigade covering the Midwest. The letter went on to say that 43 percent of cadets earned excellence ratings in 2013, a rate 21 percent above the national average.
Heitkamp said in an interview with WDAY, “NDSU ROTC has an incredible tradition.” To her, quality of the program counts most.
Justin Johnson, a criminal justice senior and ROTC member, has been in the Army for almost six years and said he is excited the Army has reversed their decision. “I am sure we will utilize this opportunity to grow and improve the Tri-College program to ensure it is around for years to come.”
Now the program needs to boost its numbers to avoid getting closed after the probationary period. “We need to make sure people know about it,” Szymanski said. She noted the university was responsible for telling the story about ROTC and how it helps pay for college.
“It’s important to me that it’s an option for students,” said Szymanski, whose husband went through the Air Force ROTC program during his college career.
BY ALISON SMITH