A noisy alarm sounds at 5:00 a.m. It’s time to hurry to Penn State’s Multi-Sport Facility. The sun still sleeps. The only illumination outside is a florescent glow from street lights and scattered luminosities from apartments overhead.
Buzzing delivery trucks and faulty wires are the only sounds accompanying the walk. Not a single person is in sight until nearing the facility. Then, shouting voices break the silence. Time for ROTC physical training.
ROTC stands for Reserve Officer’s Training Corps and is used to prepare college students for careers as military officers. Undergraduates commit to the military but still have the opportunity to get their degree. At Penn State, men and women participate in Army, Air Force and Naval ROTC programs.
Members of each ROTC branch have comparable schedules. Although time dedication varies, each branch has morning physical training between 5 and 6 a.m., jobs to complete within their branch, and various classes focusing on military leadership and skill.
When you hear “military,” it’s quick and easy to envision big burly men in camo. But according to the Pentagon, roughly 200,000 women are in the active-duty military. Those women have made a life-changing dedication to serve the country, and at Penn State, women in ROTC train to prove they are just as badass as the boys.
Senior Jodie Villegas joined Army ROTC as a freshman.
“I wanted something different,” she said. “I knew college could get hectic, and I wanted structure.”
Villegas is a Squad Coach Mentor within ROTC and teaches small groups of 10-15 people, mentoring in leadership and keeping everyone on task. She said communication is key.
Alongside her responsibilities on campus, Villegas had the opportunity to attend the Sandhurst Competition at West Point United States Military Academy, which showcases military skills and comradery.
Villegas said that for her, the most time consuming part of ROTC is behind-the-scenes work, like preparing operation orders and sending out emails. She said she dedicates roughly five hours a week to her Army responsibilities. Regardless, Villegas said she is super proud of what she has accomplished.
“It makes you feel good about yourself when you realize you can do it,” she said, adding that women and men are treated equally in all aspects.
Kate Basset, another member of Army ROTC, said she joined as a way to pay for school. With ROTC, you can compete for scholarships to aid in college expense. Although she was not set on joining the military from the beginning, she said she instantly fell in love.
“They are really good people who take care of you,” she said. “They are a small family and practically my brothers.”
Basset said the best part of ROTC is the connections she makes.
“You wouldn’t think so,” she said. “But no matter where you go in the world after college, you will know someone.”
Basset said that after graduation, she hopes to eventually be part of a unit doing agricultural work in Germany, where she was born. She wants to have a full time engineering position with the Army and train officers to improve the economy of different countries.
“You can make the career yours,” she said.
On top of Army-oriented lecture, ROTC tasks and weekly physical training, members also participate in field training exercises away from campus. Here, they practice different drills such as grenade how-to’s and land navigation.
Senior Molly Schleicher decided to join Naval ROTC before graduating high school.
“I wanted to challenge myself,” she said. “I wanted the Navy because of the opportunities and traveling. I wanted to see if I could do it.
“I’ve been on a submarine for two and a half weeks, I’ve flown helicopters, I’ve done things other people can’t do,” she said, also saying she loves her decision.
With Naval ROTC, Schleicher has participated in various summer training opportunities that provide a beneficial learning experience unattainable by just enlisting. She said you shadow enlisted members and learn their job, but learn how to do it better.
In the summer of 2014, Schleicher said she was on the same submarine as the first class of women officers permitted to be on a sub. Women are not typically assigned to submarines because of limited habitability and privacy onboard.
“I’m getting to know these women and I’m breaking gender barriers,” she proudly said. “The best part is knowing I’m part of history.”
Schleicher said ROTC has been a unique experience and is excited to know she will be doing something significant with her future. As of Oct. 5, Schleicher got word of receiving her post-grad dream position with the Navy as (Nuclear) Surface Warfare Officer.
Naval ROTC also includes students pursuing a future with the United States Marine Corps, like Junior Mariah Curcio.
Curcio said she always had an interest in joining the Marines because they have the hardest training standards and she wanted the challenge.
“It’s not the average thing to do,” she said.
Curcio is a Team Commander and in charge of a platoon. Also a business major at Penn State, she hopes to have a ground job with the Marine Corps after graduation. Right now, she is preparing to attend Officer Candidate School in Virginia this summer. She will participate in six weeks of academic, fitness and leadership tests. Upon passing, she will be able to commission as a second lieutenant her senior year.
“It’s important to take every opportunity you can get,” she said. “Better yourself mentally and physically.”
Bethany Kolmer followed in the footsteps of her parents by joining the Air Force ROTC. Her mother was involved in international affairs and her dad was an F-16 pilot in the United States Air Force.
“Most of my life, I didn’t want to,” she said. “But that changed toward the end of high school.”
Within ROTC, Kolmer said her job changes every semester. Currently, she is a Logistics Support Squad Commander. Her duties include issuing uniforms, logistics readiness, and dealing with public affairs. She said what she does now resembles real-world Air Force duties after graduation.
“Everyone has their choice of how to spend their time,” she said. “This is my way of getting involved.”
Kolmer said that Penn State as a whole is “up with the times” in terms of equality. She said she has been lucky to never experience inadequate treatment to men within the military and is proud to wear her uniform around campus.
“It gives me a purpose,” she said.
Women of Penn State’s ROTC program are united by strength and determination, and can hang with the tough guys. Regardless of a unique college experience, they’re still Penn Stater’s who enjoy a night on the town or a night in with the girls. They just know how to throw grenades, too.
Photo by Skylar Yuen