All three divisions of the University of South Florida’s Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) have noticed a new trend this semester: competition.
The Army, Navy and Air Force ROTC programs have had an increase in the number of students interested in their programs. The recruiters say the poor economy and current lack of jobs has created more traffic to military careers. As the number of students applying increases, recruiting officers can be more selective as to whom they accept.
“We have seen an up shoot in the amount of interest, especially with the economy the way it is right now. People are taking a closer look at military service,” said Lt. Steven Durst of the Navy ROTC. “But on the flip side, what has happened now is that we are much more selective. When so many people are applying, we can afford to be more selective on who gets in and who doesn’t. The quality of our applicants, I think, has definitely gone up.”
The Navy ROTC at USF is not the only one growing. When the U.S Army Cadet Command, which oversees all the Army ROTC battalions across the country, deemed USF as a “Super Host” in March 2007, they set out to grow the program to twice its size. It had about 100 cadets. Now it has 260.
“We accomplished that in a little over four years. We actually almost tripled,” said Sgt. 1st Class Jonathan Stapel, the recruiting officer for the Army ROTC. “So now it’s becoming that, instead of just trying to find someone to be a part of our program that met those requirements, we are having to almost make it competitive, like if you were trying out for a team.”
At the Air Force ROTC, the competition is a little different. Students are not competing as hard to get into the program but to become an officer at the end of four years. Each year, the Department of Defense allocates how many students graduating from the program can become officers. For example, if 100 students are allowed to become officers one year, the top 100 students with the best GPA and physical fitness scores from all across the country will be made officers. These top nationwide spots are what USF students are finding themselves fighting for.
“The interest in the program is growing because when the economy is down, our business is up. We have a lot more interest coming into the program, but due to fiscal constraints we haven’t been able to produce as many officers as we have in the past,” said Maj. Michelle Moreno, instructor and recruiter for the Air Force ROTC. “The Department of Defense hands down the budget. Our fall out is instead of producing maybe 30 officers a year, we are cut down to maybe only producing 15 or 13. So it’s not that our program isn’t growing. The interest is there. It’s how many we are able to produce.”
According to Moreno, the semester started with 100 freshman students in the program, but they are now down to 50. For this year’s seniors, 18 spots have been allocated to USF for students to have the possibility to become officers. They have allocated only 12 for next year. Moreno said this number has been steadily going down, an indication of the growing competitiveness of the program.
Altogether, the ROTC department at USF has been growing in numbers and presence on the USF campus. With more and more students attending USF as a whole, it is only logical that these programs would be growing as well.
“I think USF really understands we are here because we are a very big ROTC program,” Stapel said. “Very big.”