January 10, 2002
DeKalb - In the wake of Sept. 11, as the United States struggles to repair its sagging economy and weakened job market, prospects might seem dim for mid-year college graduates.
But those enrolled in ROTC programs need not worry.
Those who committed to service in the Army will have jobs waiting as lieutenants, and those who enrolled in ROTC simply for its leadership training will bring employers something more than others with degrees only.
The greatest success awaits those who serve in the military first, said Lt. Col Steve Payne, chair of Northern Illinois University's Department of Military Science.
"ROTC recruits and trains students who balance the attributes of a scholar, athlete and leader. These three attributes lead to a confident, well-spoken, organized team player. These skills are often more important than the technical skills some employers want," Payne said.
"Corporate America came up with the term J-MO - junior military officer," he added. "There's quite a thriving business of head-hunters who come after J-MOs. Their job is to try to link up Corporate America with these J-MOs as they leave the Army. Your first eight years in the Army as a young lieutenant or captain, you're constantly getting barraged: 'Are you considering leaving?' I've witnessed that all my career."
Junior military officers are attractive for their level of responsibility, he said.
They quickly prove they are able to take charge of 40 personnel, millions of dollars worth of equipment and of the systems of operation, including logistics, training and safety. They also take on the counseling and mentoring of those under their command.
"You're a mini-CEO of 40 people. That's a lot of responsibility at a pretty young age," Payne said. "That's what they look for."
Even those students who enroll in ROTC without committing to military service afterward are imbued with valuable leadership skills.
"If they've come through this program, they've set some goals for themselves and they've accomplished them. They've had some leadership training; planning, organizing, communicating, briefing skills," he said. "Those things help."
All graduates also come away with the Army's values.
"Loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor integrity, personal courage - we teach and discuss those traits of character," Payne said.
NIU's ROTC program, begun in 1969, enrolls about 90 students. About a quarter are women; 12 percent are African-American. Nine were commissioned as Army officers last year.
The program offers leadership skills valuable for all, not just those who enter the Army after graduation. Courses are open to anyone interested in learning more about the military and receiving leadership training. Many enjoy scholarships or tuition waivers, and those who commit to the military are paid monthly stipends, ranging from $250 for freshman to $400 for seniors.
NIU cadets recently basked in national limelight when a CNN crew visited campus.
Jeff Flock, Chicago bureau chief and correspondent for the Atlanta-based Cable News Network, featured ROTC in three live broadcasts, one of which aired on CNN Headline News. Flock said he chose NIU for a "heartland" perspective on changing attitudes toward and renewed interest in ROTC in the aftermath of Sept. 11.
His first two reports came from the Chick Evans Field House, where he spoke with Capt. Jon Adkins and a few cadets during the 6:30 a.m. physical training. His third report came from Wirtz Hall, where Flock asked broader questions of cadets, including their thoughts on possible deployment to the Middle East.
Ironically, the Israeli response to weekend Palestinian bombings dashed plans for a fourth live feed from NIU. Flock had hoped to interview ROTC seniors, some of whom will begin active duty this year.
"They did a great job. They spoke from the heart," said Adkins, an assistant professor of military science and training officer. "We're making them better citizens. We're teaching them values, team-building and teamwork. We're making them a better person."
"The depth of their response made me feel good," Payne said. "These students really understand what we're trying to do here. To hear them say it back to someone outside, and to hear what they said, was really a good feeling."
Payne said his phone is ringing more often, and he is more than happy to discuss the benefits of ROTC and the Army.
"As soon as you get commissioned, you don't go to a corporation that has a grace period or a new employee program," he said. "You are a lieutenant in the Army, and you are subject to be sent anywhere in this world to lead soldiers. It's going to happen. They know excitement is awaiting them. It's huge adventure, with danger and hardship, but I think a lot of them are licking their chops, thinking, 'Boy, that would be exciting.'
"It's just a fabulous experience, and I don't know where else you'd get that. It gives you a richness in your life. When I talk to a cadet about being in the military for three years, I always say, 'You will never regret it.' "
Meanwhile, everyone wearing the uniform is finding kind words and respect.
"Students come up to me and ask about ROTC. I've had some student just come up and say, 'Thanks for what you do,' " said Adkins, a 1995 NIU alum who will serve three years here before returning to the Army. "You also don't have to look very far before you see a flag waving, and that's outstanding."
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