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University’s ROTC program to close in 2015

Fourteen students enrolled in the Reserve Officer’s Training Corps program at the University of South Dakota will have to make the decision whether to stay or leave after the U.S. Army announced a week ago that the USD program was going to be cut.

Last Wednesday, Lt. Col. Ross Nelson, military science department chair, and USD President James Abbott received a letter from the U.S. Army notifying them the program would be dropped by the organization at the end of the 2014-15 academic school year.

“It kind of came out of the blue,” Nelson said of the announcement.

Twelve other programs across the country will also be cut, including North Dakota State University.

Nelson and Abbott both said the reason behind the cut is unclear, but Nelson said the closure of the program is based off of a study done in 2011.

“They never released the results of that study, but it looked at demographics, geographical location, academic offerings and diversity,” Nelson said.

Currently enrolled juniors and seniors at USD will be able to graduate and finish out the program, but first-years and sophomores will not be able to finish the program. Nelson said those students have the option to transfer to apply to another university or stay at USD by getting out of their contract with no commitment to the Army.

Lauren Hill was set to come to USD to be an officer in the ROTC program this  coming spring, but because of the announcement, is reconsidering her options.

Hill is currently in training, and said USD is still an option because of the medical and track programs.

“It’s just one of those things where you didn’t think that kind of a program would be cut — you wouldn’t plan for it,” she said. “I was set on my plans, and if you’re apart of the ROTC program you can’t deploy, so that’s a problem — I was looking forward to getting all through college with no deployment, and this kind of ruins all of those plans.”

Nelson said when he told students, they were both shocked and disappointed.

“A lot of them were immediately wondering how this would affect them, and I told them they didn’t have to make any decisions right away,” he said. ” I’m going to sit down with each student individually and go over their situation with them and talk to them and try to help them decide between myself, academic advisers and their own personal situation what the best decision for them is.”

Senior Matthew Martinez will be able to graduate from the program, but said he was disheartened when he heard the ROTC program would be cut.

Martinez is originally from Arizona, and said he came to South Dakota specifically for USD’s ROTC program because of the size and ratings.

“I remember when my mom told me to check out the school, I told my mom I would never come to school here, but I did, and I’m glad I did,” he said. “Our smaller program allowed me to have more opportunities and more one-on-one contact with our instructors.”

Martinez said ROTC members do try to help the university as well as the community — something he thinks will be missed once the program is cut.

Within the last week, Martinez said the ROTC has painted the USD letters outside of campus for Dakota Days, worked as ball boys during the football game and brought in the colors for the Oct. 5 football game. He also said they have done work for Military Appreciation Day and helped with trash cleanup on the roads and lower Vermillion.

To combat the cut, Abbott said he has contacted South Dakota Rep. Kristi Noem and Sen. Tim Johnson “to do everything we can to overturn or delay the action.”

Abbott, who pushed for retention and recruitment during his Oct. 2 University Address, said the cut will hurt USD.
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“I don’t know the breakdown between male and female, but it is predominantly male, and of course, it’s no secret women attend liberal arts colleges in greater numbers than men, so it’s a disappointment,” he said. “But it’s mostly a disappointment for the fact that our students who want that option won’t get it any longer.”

Students who enroll in the program, Nelson said, are typically better students who succeed professionally as well as personally.

“(The ROTC) is one leadership group where the university trains students,” he said. “We’ve had a number of distinguished graduates come out of this program who have been quite successful whether that’s in the military or in life, running their own businesses or politically.”

Martinez said the students who will not have these opportunities will be the hardest part of the cut.

“I’m really glad I got the opportunity to come out here,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot of good results. I’ve had a lot of good experiences.”

Other schools to see cut

North Dakota State University

Arkansas State University

University of North Alabama

University of Southern Mississippi

Morehead State University

University of California Santa Barbara

Northern Michigan University

University of Wisconsin Lacrosse

University of Tennessee at Martin

Georgia Regents Augusta State University

East Tennessee State University

Tennessee Technological University