Student-cadets attend ROTC annual formal Military Ball

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Members of ROTC are pictured at the Joint Forces ROTC Ball on Friday. The event brought together MIT students from all four of the ROTC military services as well as other students from schools without ROTC programs.
Elise Hens

Cadets came dressed in their military best, in pressed uniforms emblazoned with stripes and ribbons, at last Friday’s Military Ball, the MIT Reserve Officers’ Training Corps annual formal social event.

Like any ROTC event, attendance at the evening’s festivities was mandatory. Still...

Guest speaker three-star Lieutenant General Glenn Webster proffered advice and encouragement to the cadets, praising them for their hard work while alerting them to future sources of world conflicts.

The ball, one of ROTC’s rare joint-service social events and long-standing traditions, gathered together all the ROTC military services: Air Force, Army, Navy, and Marine. Meant to celebrate ROTC, increase inter-service bonding, and act as a forum to practice etiquette, ROTC cadets from the whole MIT division, which includes students from schools without their own ROTC programs such as Harvard, Tufts, Wellesley, filled the halls of the Kendall Square Marriott.

The ROTC cadets’ uniforms were embellished with intricate details told each cadet’s history, such as their class, rank, and achievements. Multicolored ribbons pinned to jackets indicated certain achievements, such as membership in the “Warrior Squad.” The Air Force cadets wore blue with small airplane pins, leading some cadets to joke about the similarities of the women’s Air Force uniforms and flight attendants’.

The event provided a seldom opportunity for cadets to freely socialize with each other. Before doors opened, groups of mostly same-service cadets mixed together, chatting casually about school and ROTC life. Cadets from different services and their dates sat ten at a table during dinner, distinctly separated from the officials sitting at other tables.

The night began with a non-denominational prayer for the entire audience, later on capped with another nondenominational benediction led by a chaplain. After the invocation, certain leading cadets lead toasts honoring officials such as the commander-in-chief and chiefs of each military service, and the crowd echoed back requisite responses such as “to the chief!”

Traditions and symbolism indicating honor and respect for their fellow servicemen infused the ball’s spirit. Two honorary tables were arranged at front: One, draped in a red tablecloth, was meant for honorary guests such as the General Glenn Webster. A second, separate table remained empty, symbolizing those who could not be with the cadets that night: Prisoners of war and those missing in action. It was draped in a white tablecloth to indicate the purity of their actions, surrounded with four chairs for each service, and and sprinkled with salt to signify the tears shed for them.

The night ended with each service enthusiastically singing their branch’s own songs: the Navy sang their “Anchors Aweigh,” the Marines sang the Marines’ Hymn, the Army sang “The Army Goes Rolling Along,” and the Air Force sang “Wild Blue Yonder.”

Webster, who is also commander of the Third Army and the US Army Central, shared accounts and lessons learned from his life in the military. He discussed his philosophy of success, telling the cadets to focus on three areas: mission, people, and teamwork.

Webster emphasized the importance of services working together. He recalled his own experiences on September 11, when he was working at the Pentagon, thirty yards away from the plane wreck. Helping moving casualties and conducting triage, he helped in the relief effort with members of all services, regardless of their class or rank. Webster said of the experience, “I understood what jointness meant… [We were] all in it together, on the same team.”

Webster also spoke of the upcoming threats to safety and stability across the globe. He listed possible sources of future conflict in the world, citing risks such as religious tension: “Religious, ethnic, tribal breakdowns often lead to war,” and environmental catastrophes, he said. “The world is dirty, and it is getting dirtier.”

Even though the world is in “an era of cynicalism and mistrust,” cadets could still “earn the trust of the American people,” Webster said. Reminding them to always continue learning, he emphasized that they must “ensure everyone takes care of each other.” Webster ended by thanking the cadets for their service, “what [your] civilians and counterparts either would not do or could not do.”

Cadets discuss ROTC life

Cadets cite different reasons for joining ROTC, but most were inspired by relatives in the military.

Sarah Gontarek, an Air Force cadet and a freshman Wellesley, said that “all my family members did it.” Brittany Trimble, an Air Force cadet and freshman at Tufts said her father was part of the Air Force and considered joining the military but decided against attending a military academy because “I wanted more of a normal college experience,” she said.

Others knew from childhood they wanted to join the military. Air force cadet Claire G. Nieman ’13 “always wanted to be part of the military since I was twelve,” she said. Her parents, while not part of the military, knew about her ambitions. “I told them before about it, they were like ‘have fun with that!’” but supported her in joining ROTC, she said.

ROTC cadets receive scholarships ranging from partial to full for committing to serve on average at least four years of active duty in the military plus four years of reserve duty after college.

Life at MIT as part of ROTC is hectic, the cadets said. Having to wake up at 6:30 a.m. might be unusual to the regular MIT student, but Army cadet Brandon D. Briscoe ’11 said that, for him, being a student at MIT and a part of ROTC “curiously complement each other… having both is good for each other.”

As students, ROTC cadets train mentally and physically for joining the military after graduation. For example, Air Force ROTC cadets must take military classes, ranging in topics from military history to the more advanced “leadership lab” and must also participate in two-time weekly physical training. Course load varies, but, on average, underclassmen spend three hours on ROTC subjects in the classroom each week, while upperclassmen spend six to seven hours, plus whatever is required of them in leadership positions.

At least once a week, cadets must dress in full uniform, setting them noticeably apart from the regular MIT student. Sometimes while in uniform, the cadets said, they receive comments from friends and strangers. Trimble said she has only received positive comments and general inquiries from others though. “I’ve been asked, ‘oh, what’s that! What’s that for?’” she said.