ROTC program focuses on student engagement, leadership development

February 21, 2017

Daniel McArdle

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     The Mountain Ranger Battalion is an Army ROTC unit made up of 124 members, including 103 UCCS students and 21 cadets from other colleges in the Southern Colorado region.

     The battalion ranked in the top 10 ROTC programs nationally in two out of the last five years, and is a three-time MacArthur award recipient for finishing in the top eight programs nationwide, according to Donald Caughey, the unit’s Enrollment and Scholarship officer.

     “By and large our strengths are the school’s strengths,” Caughey explained. “We’re good at the things we’re good at because of the way the school is and the way the student body is.”

     UCCS has provided many resources to help the program be successful, said Caughey.

     “One of the things that have been an advantage to us at UCCS is that we have smaller class sizes. You can do that in a classroom of 20 or 24, but not in a classroom of 50 or 60.”

     The battalion has partnered with the Excel Center and the Office of the First Year Experience to aid with the program. This year, cadets in the battalion had an average GPA of 3.07, according to Caughey.

     “There’s definitely a focus here on trying to keep freshman on track and help them succeed instead of cutting them away,” said Caughey.

     “That’s definitely an advantage I’ve seen here over some of the other schools that I’ve worked at.”

     According to Capt. Kelly Leaverton, military science instructor, the goal of the program is to select, train and commission lieutenants for the United States Army.

     By a student’s senior year, students have gained experience and competed nationally against other programs and take on increased responsibilities, Leaverton explained.

     “They’ve already been assessed, they know what branch they’ll have (and) they have their first bases. They’re doing a lot of officer and senior officer jobs for the program,” he said.

     Seniors have the opportunity to expand their skill sets, according to junior nursing major Jamie Maple, who served for five years as an army medic.

     “What I’m excited for is as seniors you pick up even bigger roles, but you have a lot more autonomy and communication expectancy,” said Maple.

     “You have to talk to the (staff) a lot more and you get to really hone in on those communication skills and learn how to talk to people in those different positions.”

     Cadets attend four morning formations each week where they perform physical training, which is led by upperclassmen students.

     Additionally, students complete 2.5 hours of military science classes per week along with three hours of labs focused on tactics and other specialized training.

     Students who complete the program requirements graduate with a minor in military science and are commissioned as Second Lieutenants in the U.S. Army.

     Staff members and students alike described success with the program’s emphasis on small group training.

     “Over the past few years, we’ve definitely gone to much more small group discussions, student involvement (and) experiential learning rather than straight lecture. And that’s been pretty effective,” said Caughey.

     Maple said that she enjoys how instructors have broken down the curriculum to one-on-one training.

     “When we do our actual out-in-the-field training, it’s a little more one-on-one than past years have been. We’ve made some pretty good progress and they’re constantly improving,” she said.

     Miranda BonVillain, a junior economics major, said that her favorite experiences within the program involve her own growth.

     “I started out not passing the PT test and had to come by on additional mornings for extra help. Eventually, I got off remedial and then I started just progressing,” said BonVillain.

     Other cadets, like junior political science major Meghan Berry, discussed the commitment to the program and the opportunity for growth it represents, especially for students who join the program directly out of high school.

     “I appreciate that there is a challenge because there should be and there should be a standard,” said Berry, a junior Political Science major, who served for six years as a journalist in the Army.

     “I really think that it should be challenging and a chance to really find out who you are as a student and a future soldier,” said Berry.

     “It’s really a time to prove yourself, and I think they give you the tools to do that,” said Maple.

     “I’m just looking forward to proving myself, to show that I deserve the branch and component that I get.”