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School of Arts and Sciences

Serving Those Who Serve

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

ROTC Cadets and Returning Veterans Are a Vital Part of the Tufts Community

ROTC Students

By Alexandra Erath, A16

Vadim Reytbalt, E15, walks through campus in his khaki Navy uniform (Kelvin Ma/Tufts University)

A group of cadets meet at the breakfast. (Kelvin Ma/Tufts University)

ROTC cadet David Forsey, E15, says "the ROTC gave my undergraduate experience purpose." (Kelvin Ma/Tufts University)

Advocates Chair Gresh Lattimore, F70, FG65, FG72, CAPT, USNR (Ret.). greets Tufts cadets. (Kelvin Ma/Tufts University)

Each fall, Tufts welcomes a diverse array of students, including pre- and post-military students: like many colleges across the nation, Tufts has a Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) program for the Army, Navy, and Air Force branches of the military.

"The ROTC experience is quite rich here," says Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences James Glaser. "It's a big commitment, but more than anything, it enhances our students' college years."

The military provides scholarships for some or all of an ROTC student's tuition in exchange for a commitment of at least four years of service after graduation. ROTC cadets take a normal course load at Tufts in addition to several hours of training off-campus at MIT, where, along with cadets from Harvard, Wellesley and other areas schools, they complete physical drills, military classes, and leadership exercises. Naval cadets, for example, study sea navigation, naval weapons, and naval culture.  They also take a leadership and ethics seminar - a discussion-based class that focuses on ethical dilemmas such as the use of human shields.  All cadets participate in several hours of endurance-based physical training each week and are held to strict standards, which they must meet to remain in the program.

The ROTC program at Tufts began in 1941 with about one hundred enrolled individuals. In 1969, protests against the Vietnam War prompted a faculty vote to ban the program on campus.  Although the Tufts administration allowed the program to continue without official recognition, in 1976, the military consolidated Boston area ROTC programs into a site at MIT, and Tufts students have received their training in that unit ever since.  In 2011, the Tufts faculty voted to formally recognize ROTC on student transcripts. Typically between three and six ROTC cadets are enrolled in each entering class at Tufts. With a new arrangement between ROTC and the Tufts Admissions Office last year, eight ROTC students are in this year's entering class.

ROTC student David Forsey, E15, knew he wanted to serve in the military from the age of 12.  His grandfather served in England's Royal Navy, and it was his influence that helped Forsey take the leap and apply to ROTC during his senior year of high school.  The decision proved to be a smart one, as Forsey has gained much more from the program than a monetary stipend.

"It's a crash course in military culture and leadership," says Forsey.  "Although it does require a large time commitment, good time management allows ROTC students to really get the utmost from their college experiences. The ROTC gave my undergraduate experience purpose.  From the get-go, I knew exactly why I was at school and what I was trying to achieve."

This sense of drive is one such characteristic Lieutenant Colonel Karen Dillard, Commanding Officer of the Air Force ROTC program at MIT, often finds among ROTC students.  "Another common thread, which they've all either already had or have developed over time," she says, "Is a willingness to serve the community, whether they serve four years or twenty."

Other Tufts students have reversed the conventional order, putting their education on hold in order to join the military. Tufts' Resumed Education for Adult Learning (REAL) program attracts many such veterans.  Founded in 1970, REAL was originally designed for women who had not had the opportunity to attend, or who had interrupted their education to raise families.  In 1976, the program expanded to welcome men, mostly veterans who had similarly interrupted their education to serve in the military.  Today, the program accepts both men and women, and while military experience is not necessary, there are a few veterans enrolled in the REAL Program each year. Applicants must be at least 24 years old and have taken at least two college-level classes within the last five years. There are anywhere from six to twelve participants entering each semester.

"REAL was designed for students who have begun college elsewhere and have had to drop out, and realized that they need that degree to pursue the careers they really want," says Jean Herbert, the program's director. "These are very bright people who've found themselves in dead-end jobs or just craving intellectual stimulation."

One such student is Amber Frommherz, a recent Tufts graduate and Navy veteran.  Frommherz grew up in a small border town in Arizona. As an (eventual) first generation college student, she didn't know anyone who went to college.  "I didn't want to worry about college, that whole process seemed scary," explains Frommherz.  "I thought, 'Let me just join the Navy, they'll take care of me.'" Frommherz signed up with the Navy the summer before her senior year of high school, and spent four years on active duty before marrying and having her first child. Living in Albuquerque, she enrolled in a community college. When her husband was recalled to active duty in Boston, the family moved to New England and Frommherz began researching Boston-area universities.

When Frommherz contacted Tufts and explained her background, she was referred to Jean Herbert to learn about the REAL program.  "As soon as I talked with her, the deal was done," Frommherz remembers. "I jumped online and started my application that same day. Tufts seemed the best fit for a nontraditional applicant like me."

Frommherz graduated in 2011 with a major in American Studies and went on to complete her Masters in Educational Studies at Tufts in 2012.

Fellow REAL participant Matthew McLaughlin was raised in Somerville and graduated from Somerville High in 2000. He attended a state college for a year before dropping out, and after a year of work, enrolled in the Army and served for five years as a combat journalist.

Upon his return in 2008, McLaughlin became involved with local politics when Tufts Professor of Sociology Susan Ostrander, who was writing a book about the history of Somerville, Citizenship and Governance in a Changing City, Somerville, MA, approached him for an interview. The REAL program came up in conversation, and McLaughlin was intrigued. He graduated from Tufts in less than four years with a major in political science, and now serves as a city counselor for Somerville and works for a nonprofit helping homeless and low-income veterans.

Herbert believes Tufts benefits enormously from having nontraditional students involved on campus.  "They bring new perspective and life experiences," she explains.  "I also think that the traditional students can learn from them, too. It makes the younger students appreciate the relative ease with which they have been given their education."

McLaughlin and Frommherz both agree that their experiences allowed them to contribute to and broaden class discussions.  McLaughlin recalls explaining to one of his classes exactly how the city of Somerville operated, while Frommherz compared her experience in the Navy to the textbook's version.

Similarly, Air Force ROTC Lieutenant Colonel Dillard believes Tufts students benefit just as much from the character of the ROTC cadets on campus.  "They understand commitment, responsibility, and accountability," she emphasizes.  "This translates into all aspects of their lives, on campus and off campus, in and out of uniform.

Dean Glaser agrees. "A diverse student body, diverse in many ways, is critical to the education we provide," he says. "Students will encounter people with different backgrounds, different values, different experiences, and I think there's a lot of education in these encounters."

ROTC students and veterans enrolled in the REAL program are supported by the Advocates for Tufts ROTC, an alumni group that welcomes anyone interested in the military community at Tufts – from undergraduate cadets, midshipmen, and students, to graduate active duty students, Tufts alumni, and staff. Their goals are to enhance well-established Tufts military traditions such as the Flag Ceremony on Veterans Day and the commissioning ceremony at Commencement, to continue strong working relationships with the ROTC commands, and to raise funds in support of ROTC students and returning veterans on all Tufts campuses.

The Advocates recently announced the establishment of the Tufts ROTC/Veterans Scholarship, with a goal of raising a minimum of $500,000 for an endowed fund. "With the GI Bill not covering the full cost of college and ROTC scholarship funding being reduced, we knew we had to help these incredible men and women," says Advocates Chair Gresh Lattimore, F70, FG65, FG72, CAPT, USNR (Ret.). "With 45% of the ROTC students and returning veterans on campus each year receiving some form of financial aid, the scholarship campaign has been initiated to meet this growing need and to continue to attract and educate ROTC students and returning veterans, who are an important and valuable segment of the Tufts community."

Read more about Vadim Reytblat E15's life as a Tufts ROTC undergraduate >