Despite the filled column inches, cut ribbons and congratulatory speeches, Yale students know little about what the return of ROTC actually means on a day-to-day basis for midshipmen and cadets. In Naval ROTC, for example, we have 0630 physical training on Monday mornings, naval science courses on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1300–1415, and two-hour lab on Wednesday afternoons for physical training, briefings and drill practice.
NROTC is a unique combination of class work and physical activity that requires a constant commitment. There is no exact equivalent on campus. It isn’t the only extracurricular midshipmen do: we are singers, fraternity brothers, activists and YPU members. But unlike a cappella groups and political organizations, only NROTC requires us to wear a recognizable and symbolic uniform all day on Thursdays.
I was nervous the first time Thursday rolled around and I put on my uniform. What would my friends say? What would they think? Would my professors react badly? I was worried that I would lose my identity, that all anyone would see was the uniform. Walking around that first Thursday and every Thursday since, however, I learned I had been needlessly worried.
My friends all reacted positively, despite initially being a little taken with the novelty of the uniform. I had to stop people from trying to wear my cover (the weirdly-shaped khaki cap) and explain that I couldn’t just salute people randomly on the street.
But I soon realized that I don’t mind being identified as a midshipman. When I put on the uniform and am recognized as Midshipman Third Class Cohen, I don’t stop being Sam; I just have an added responsibility. I am scrutinized, by second glances thrown my way when I walk, tourists pointing and even students mistaking my khakis for a janitor’s uniform (sorry, but no, I don’t know where to find trash bags). I realized that the extra scrutiny that I had been so nervous about isn’t mean, judgmental or malicious. In fact, that scrutiny is exactly the goal of having NROTC on Yale’s campus.
Hopefully, seeing the 12 Navy midshipmen and the eight Air Force cadets walking around campus and attending class sparks conversations about the role of the military in modern society, about the ongoing war in Afghanistan and about the importance of service to Yalies, for which ROTC is one of many outlets. We aren’t just Yalies and we aren’t just midshipmen — we are Yale’s midshipmen, and our numbers will grow over the next four years.
I’ve heard people say, when trying to be nice, “I bet by the time you’re a senior no one will look twice at you when you walk by.”
I hope that’s not true. In three years’ time, when I’m a midshipman first class, I hope the new class of freshmen gets the same second glances. We shouldn’t take for granted that the military is welcome on Yale’s campus, and we shouldn’t take for granted that students aspire to serve in the armed forces. That scrutiny is a constant reminder to us as midshipmen of our responsibilities and should remind our classmates of how far Yale has come in 40 years.
Sam Cohen is a sophomore in Calhoun College. This column expresses his personal views only, and not the views of Yale, Yale NROTC, the Department of Defense or any other entity. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .