Courtesy of Matt Vitarelli

Yale’s Reserve Officers Training Corps program, or ROTC, continues to thrive amid the pandemic as a host to Air Force and Naval units on campus.

With approximately 40 Yale students each in the Air Force and Naval units, ROTC trains undergraduate students for leadership in the military service following graduation. While students in the Air Force unit are referred to as cadets, those in the Naval unit are called midshipmen. Students interested in the Army, “crosstown cadets,” train nearby at the University of New Haven. While trainees typically attend special classes and workouts in person, these students must now train over Zoom, though schedules vary per unit.  

“Obviously, there are certain aspects of what makes ROTC fun and the community really great you just can’t have virtually, but in terms of quality of training, I would say it’s been 100 percent fine,” Midshipman Bella Back ’21 told the News. “We’re still getting what we need to be successful officers in the future.”

Midshipmen in the Naval unit partake in a modified schedule over Zoom to accommodate for COVID-19. Depending on their class year, students take a required naval science course twice a week. On Friday mornings, all midshipmen log in to attend “Naval Science Lab,” where there are designated speakers and activities.

While workouts used to take place as a unit at 7 a.m. each Wednesday in Payne Whitney Gymnasium, trainees now complete them on their own time to avoid large group gatherings. 

“Our training officer just creates a whole list of workouts that we can do throughout the week, and then there’s a competition,” Midshipman Wendy Shi ’22 said. “The more workouts that you do, the more points that you earn, and then the midshipman with the most points at the end gets to have a prize.”

The Air Force unit has also adopted a modified schedule over Zoom. 

On Tuesday mornings, cadets also take a required course, referred to as their “Academic Setting,” or AS, class, which varies depending on class year. First-year cadets Tom Nardini ’24 and Clay Skaggs ’24 are currently learning the Air Force’s basics – its founding, customs and general knowledge. 

On Thursday mornings, all Air Force cadets log onto Zoom for “Leadership Laboratory,” a class on general Air Force practices. 

“Right now, we’re working on what’s called ‘drill,’” Nardini said. “[Drill refers to] marching, how to salute properly, how to properly address certain people in the Air Force, ranks and things of the sort.”

Cadets also participate in two mandatory workouts per week, referred to as physical training, or PT. The first is a roughly hour-long self-administered workout. Cadets record their progress in Strava, a fitness app. In the second, cadets attend a Zoom session, in which one cadet leads the detachment. 

On the weekends, Air Force cadets have been able to experience an in-person component.

“We have groups of five kids on the weekends where one of the upperclassmen cadets will teach us marching and teach us stuff we can’t learn over Zoom – of course, while maintaining all social distancing,” Skaggs said. 

Both Nardini and Skaggs already have visions for their plans after ROTC. Skaggs aspires to become a combat rescue officer while Nardini is working toward becoming a fighter pilot. 

Currently taking a naval engineering class, Shi plans on working with submarines. Back, who is currently taking a naval ethics class, echoed Shi’s sentiments, saying, “I’m going into submarines, which is super cool.”

Set to be released mid-October, seniors in the naval unit currently await their service assignments for after they graduate. While this follows the typical timeline, Back told the News that she completed her necessary interview over the summer virtually and received her submarine assignment early. 

Even though there have been limitations on the in-person component of ROTC, cadets and midshipmen remain positive. 

“Obviously, every aspect of Yale is to some extent diluted, but you can find the silver lining in anything,” Nardini said. “The leadership in the detachment has definitely made a phenomenal effort to really try and make things as accessible as possible, considering the circumstances.” 

The Yale Air Force and Naval ROTC units each take in approximately 10 new trainees per year.

Zach Morris |

Zach Morris covers the endowment, finances, & donations. He previously covered international affairs and is a sophomore in Branford College majoring in English.