Waking up at five in the morning for workouts isn’t everyone’s idea of the college experience. For Carroll College senior Rebecca Case, joining the school’s Army Reserve Office Training Corps, and undertaking military training in addition to everything else, was a smart move.
“It was the best decision I’ve ever made, because you meet people who will hold themselves to a higher standard,” she said recently.
“They’re not typical college students, I don’t think, in any way,” said Maj. Mark McGinley, officer in charge of the ROTC program and adjunct professor of military science at Carroll, as he oversaw a group of the cadets on a day-night land navigation exercise Monday. “Because it will be 10:30 before we’re off the mountain tonight.”
The seven cadets who receive Carroll diplomas May 11 will be the largest ROTC class to gradate yet in the program’s 11 years at the college.
Four of the seven are women, and McGinley told a recent Hometown Helena gathering that the Army remains a man’s world, where the color of one’s skin doesn’t matter but gender still does, and he challenged the female officers-to-be to break that glass ceiling.
“A lot of women are raised to be docile, and not forceful and commanding, but you have to be,” said Case. “You can’t baby everybody’s feelings. You have to be firm sometimes, even if that other person doesn’t like it.”
“You have to prove yourself and work three times as hard,” said Heather Senesac, also a senior. “Finding that confidence in a very big male population is really hard. Once you get in front of a platoon, three-fourths male, you have to find that confidence and just put out that presence.”
Case said women work to resist unflattering stereotypes, avoiding perception as a pushover on the one hand or as someone too tough on the other hand.
“It’s hard to find that middle ground, where you’re one of the guys, but you’re also a female,” she said. “You definitely have to have thicker skin than most females. You have to know that guys will joke around with you and you can’t take it personally. You got to learn, like Heather and I have learned, to sling it right back at them.”
Case is from a military family and craved that community as she entered college.
Angelo Masilini, a sophomore from Great Falls, is also from a military family; his mother is a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve, recently back from deployment at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
“It’s nice to know that I’m at least here with another family,” he said, describing his family’s feelings.
“Every single one of the cadets in the program, we’re all friends,” said Junior Seth Pattee of Great Falls. “And we get up at six in the morning and may be nasty toward each other, but at the end of the day every single one of us excels in different areas and every single one of us complements the program in different areas, and it’s awesome to have so many different people who have different ideas and have a close, tight-knit group like that.”
Samantha Clement, a junior from Great Falls, was in eighth grade when she watched her brother graduate from Marines boot camp, and she was struck by the community around that and wanted to become a part of it.
She set out to become an Army doctor and is majoring in biology at Carroll, where she joined ROTC.
“I kind of wanted to see, roughly, what it was like to be a soldier,” she said in a small break from Monday’s navigation exercise.
Cadets take a full course load, plus military exercises and training from physical fitness to using weapons and executing commands. They’ll complete about 30 semester-hours of military science.
Between their junior and senior years, cadets from all over the country spend about 30 days at Fort Lewis, in Washington state. Seniors learn to be leaders by leading the younger cadets. Shortly after graduation, they report for the start of four years of active duty.
The students gain the extra skills plus freedom from the debt that Carroll’s $20,000-plus annual tuition could create.
“Carroll gets a great student out of it,” said McGinley. “The Army gets a great lieutenant.”
The program has graduated 27 cadets so far, but it almost never began at Carroll, with consternation over the program’s compatibility with the college’s Christian teaching mission. McGinley related the words of late professor the Rev. Gene Peoples, who cast a deciding vote with the faculty Senate.
“Unfortunately there will always be conflict in the world and there will always be a need for a military. This is my opportunity to influence the leaders who will lead my Army and represent my nation,” McGinley said, paraphrasing the professor’s words. “I want those leaders to be moral and ethical people.”
McGinley, a Carroll alumnus, is leaving the program after three years, slated to be in charge of logistics for the 1889th Regional Support Group in Butte.
“I’m going to be heartbroken to leave Carroll,” he told those at Hometown Helena.
“This was a job I desperately wanted.”