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ROTC students and leaders adapting in unique ways

The University of Missouri’s Reserve Officer Training Corps is finding innovative ways to adapt military education due to the COVID-19 pandemic

May 19, 2020

While the COVID-19 pandemic has kept them apart, Army ROTC students at the University of Missouri have pulled together virtually, developing new ways to engage members and maintain community.

Army Cadet Battalion Commander Shade Bullock said some students are inspiring others to exercise and maintain their physical training requirements by uploading videos of their at-home workouts to the Army ROTC’s Instagram account.

“It’s important in an online environment like this to make sure that cadets are staying motivated, she said. “This is a great way to do that.”

Another source of inspiration is the Fire Team Families, a mentorship program that connects cadets with older ROTC members in a ladder system designed to encourage new members to move up the order.

“Everyone is connected with their families on GroupMe, and that’s a way we’ve been trying to encourage members as well,” Bullock said. “Checking up on each other’s mental health as well as physical health is really important. We’re a family, not just a program.”

Additionally, the students have established a private Facebook group where members encourage each other to reach their training goals. By engaging in different groups and activities, the students are maintaining the same sense of camaraderie and team building they developed on campus.

Captain David Dry, the commander of the MU Naval ROTC Unit, isn’t surprised ROTC students are pioneering ways to overcome obstacles. After all, ROTC training prepares cadets to overcome barriers.

Patrick Seeling works out from home with his child Murphy. Seeling is a senior at MU, the Army Ranger Company Commander, and a distinguished Military Graduate. During his enlisted military career, he was a distinguished Leadership Awardee from Basic Leaders Course and completed a deployment to Afghanistan in 2016.

Patrick Seeling works out from home with his child Murphy. Seeling is a senior at MU, the Army Ranger Company Commander, and a distinguished Military Graduate. During his enlisted military career, he completed a deployment to Afghanistan in 2016.

“Being in the military is very dynamic, even in a normal environment,” Dry said. “This is a tremendous real-time opportunity for us to train midshipmen on what it means to be flexible, as well as adapting and overcoming obstacles.”

During the school year, Army, Navy and Air Force ROTC cadets are typically required to attend weekly, in-person naval science labs. The pandemic, however, has forced the programs to be modified for online access.

In some cases, the new online format has been surprisingly beneficial. For Lieutenant Colonel Gary Kerr, the department head of the MU Army ROTC program, Zoom meetings have inspired new ways to teach tactical programs next spring.

“I think the cadets get more out of learning in tactical labs virtually than they would outside in the colder early spring season,” he said. “It’s an interesting way to teach platoon tactics that allows everyone to hear and see everything while being very engaged.”

An Army ROTC cadet interacts with fellow students and ROTC leaders on a weekly Zoom meeting.

An Army ROTC cadet interacts with fellow students and ROTC leaders on a weekly Zoom meeting.

Typically, 40 cadets are outside training, but only 12 are able to be participate in the lab at once. Teaching on Zoom, all cadets are able to be simultaneously engaged, and they can see the specific details of formations as they move on screen.

“This is something we never even thought we would do,” Kerr said. “But it’s an interesting and new way of teaching that’s making us better.”

ROTC commissions were not be delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, events and summer programs for all divisions, including the Air Force ROTC, have been affected.

The annual ROTC Joint Services pass in review ceremony was cancelled this year. This historic event is typically the last formal event on campus at the end of the academic year, and honors cadets and midshipmen from all ROTC programs.

The summer Great Lakes New Student Indoctrination for Naval ROTC programs also has been cancelled. Consequently, MU will be hosting its Naval ROTC New Student Orientation locally.

“No matter what, we are trying to keep the supply chain going,” Dry said. “It is vital to get new recruits into our program and into the military.”

While the Naval ROTC’s summer cruise programs for cadets and the Army ROTC’s summer training for juniors have not been formally eliminated, MU is prepared to adjust if cancellations occur.

ROTC leaders know no matter what other changes lie ahead, their students will be prepared.

“We train flexible and adaptable leaders,” Kerr said. “This is helping us doing that.”

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