ROTC Faces Anti-War Attitudes

Photo: ROTC students Don Reyes (CCSF) and senior Edward Yang participate in training exercises for military service. ROTC members in Berkeley face unique challenges.
Michael Kang/Photo
ROTC students Don Reyes (CCSF) and senior Edward Yang participate in training exercises for military service. ROTC members in Berkeley face unique challenges.

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Correction and Clarification Appended

As partygoers packed the Alpha Delta Phi house last Thursday night, junior and house member Jason Hwa waited in bed for his 6:45 a.m. workout where he would run almost two miles and do dozens of push-ups within minutes-all in uniform.

Hwa is one of the nearly 170 members of UC Berkeley's Reserve Officers' Training Corps, a college-based program that trains students to become officers in the nation's armed forces, Marine Corps, Navy and Air Force. Most of the campus' training corps participants attend UC Berkeley, program officials said, with others from nearby campuses.

Training for the military in a city famous for its anti-war activism poses unique challenges, ROTC members say, adding that they manage to lead normal lives while earning a college degree and striving to serve the country.

"You learn to manage your time well," said Hwa, who juggles his molecular environmental biology studies and fraternity activities with about 30 hours of Air Force ROTC-related duties each week. "There is no other leadership training like it in the world as of now, because they train you in a way where people's lives are at stake."

Earlier this month, the Berkeley City Council stirred a national debate by taking a stance on the downtown Marine recruiting center, allotting a parking spot to anti-war group Code Pink and initially calling the recruiters "unwelcome" and "intruders."

Though the center and ROTC program are not affiliated, members said they were upset with the City Council.

"As a (Navy) ROTC student, I do feel a connection to the U.S. military and what kind of badgering the Marine recruiters are having to put up with," said sophomore Chad Kunert, the Berkeley College Republicans senator who authored last week's ASUC resolution opposing the council's decision.

Freshman and Air Force cadet Christopher Helling called the council "hypocritical."

"They have every right to say whatever they want, but I think encouraging people to impede the business practice of the Marine center-I think that was wrong," he said.

The ROTC program at UC Berkeley, which began in 1860, is smaller than comparably-sized campuses in other states with a greater military culture, said Lt. Col. Brad Jensen. At Brigham Young University in Utah, campus officials said 250 students belong to the Army branch alone.

Some ROTC members said the council's decision surprised them. Junior Vanna Rocchi said she has rarely faced hostility from the city or campus.

"Every time I have worn my uniform, I have gotten smiles or compliments," she said. "I've definitely seen protesting, but 'anti-Marines' is definitely not something I thought it would go into."

ROTC members undergo a rigorous weekly training schedule, attending early morning workouts multiple times a week along with leadership training classes. Being in uniform so often sometimes translates into "civilian life," some members say, including their custom of referring to each other by last name.

Some students rely on full or partial ROTC scholarships to pay for school, which come with a commitment to enter officership after graduating. Senior Christina Norbygaard said she would participate even without her annual $15,000 scholarship.

"You can change things, you can really set an example for young people who just got out of high school," said Norbygaard, who is set to work as an air battle manager after graduating.

No matter the city, ROTC members said, the mission remains the same.

"It's about serving your country and really protecting people you care about back home," Norbygaard said.

Correction: February 29, 2008
Yesterday's article "ROTC Faces

Anti-War Attitudes" incorrectly stated that UC Berkeley's ROTC program began in 1860. In fact, the program began in 1870.

Clarification: February 29, 2008

Yesterday's article "ROTC Faces Anti-War Attitudes" stated that the ROTC program trains students to become officers in the nation's armed forces, Marine Corps, Navy and Air Force. The ROTC program trains students to become officers in the Marine Corps, Army, Navy and Air Force, which are branches of the armed forces.


Contact Stephanie M. Lee at [email protected]

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