UD Army ROTC program ranked top in the Midwest
The University of Dayton Fighting Flyers was selected as the top Army ROTC program in the Midwest, earning the 2022-23 General Douglas MacArthur Award. Recently, WYSO’s Garrett Reese spent a morning with the group to learn more about how they train.
The day began a little before 6 a.m. While the rest of campus slept, the Fighting Flyers were in front of Founders Hall, stamping against the cold. With an order, the cadets settled into two single file lines and started to march.
One of the cadets lead the two lines, leading a call and response song to keep his fellow cadets in order.
“Left, go left!” he sang. The cadets cheered in response, all responding, “You got it!”
Their singing and the sounds of their boots crunching on the pavement were the only sounds on campus.
“I think it just goes to show that the cadre and the instructors we have here and how much they really care, and how much UD puts in the ROTC program, and [how] it all pulls together."Carson Rhoades, current cadet battalion commander
The cadets headed towards Stuart Field, a giant turf field on campus where the group holds exercises. It was Tuesday; Tuesdays and Thursdays are leadership lab days.
“Leadership lab is a hands-on setting which we have every single week,” Carson Rhoades, the current cadet battalion commander and a senior, said.
Tuesday's drills were focused on teaching reconnaissance. As a cold wind gustsed around them, the cadets crawled on their bellies with fake rifles, form perimeters, and quietly issued commands to each other.
“They probably learned this in class recently,” Rhoades said, “and then what they’re doing today is, like, actually out here, getting hands on. So, they were probably the other day doing a whiteboard drawing and showing the circle and the people leaving it. And so today, now this is how they learn.”
Leadership labs are only a part of the ROTC experience. The cadets are always together — they run drills, have daily exercises, attend the same classes, and are always pushing each other.
In this environment, intense friendships form pretty quickly.
“Last year, my third year, we were doing field training in the woods,” Rhoades said, a smile already growing on his face. “I had a buddy with me, he and I were both point security on a hill. And he, for whatever reason, rocked back and fell and rolled down this entire hill — head over heels and head over heels. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard in my entire life. And it was just that bond and the memories you make and it was in that moment, a little bit of comic relief goes a long way.”
Rhoades joined ROTC to follow in his dad’s footsteps, who was also a cadet at UD. Kelsey Saylor served as last year’s cadet battalion commander, and is also a senior. She’s currently the program’s public affairs officer, and also has family ties to ROTC.
“My father was actually in ROTC at Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania,” she said. “So he kind of paved the way for me to do ROTC. It was a good way to help pay for school. And I also wanted to do something bigger than myself.
“My grandfathers also served in Vietnam,” she added.
This idea and responsibility of being a part of something bigger is on display as the cadets drill on Stuart Field. What was striking was who was running the drills. It wasn’t the instructors or professors, active military members called cadre. It was the juniors and seniors who explained the drills, ran them, and issued orders.
Each cadet takes on a leadership role during their time in the program. It’s a unique aspect of being in ROTC. While their fellow Flyers are largely being lectured to in a classroom environment, the cadets are getting valuable leadership experience that will go on to shape their careers.
“I think the program has really allowed me to gain a lot of confidence in myself as a leader in any program I am in outside of ROTC, or even outside of the university,” Saylor said. “I just feel confident in myself and my abilities. I feel like I can really make a change in other people’s lives just from the skills that I’ve learned here.”
This group earned the 2022-23 General Douglas MacArthur Award. To do so, it had to beat out around 38 other ROTC programs in the Midwest.
“I think it just goes to show that the cadre and the instructors we have here and how much they really care, and how much UD puts in the ROTC program, and [how] it all pulls together,” Rhoades said. “I think everyone supported us to win this award.
The Fighting Flyers and the University of Dayton have also been selected as national finalists for the Department of Defense ROTC and Partnership Institution Excellence Award. It’s the first time both have been nominated.
It may take a while to learn if they’ve won the award. Around this time last year, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology’s Wabash Battalion ROTC was nominated for the same award. They only learned they won the award on January 25 of this year.
If UD wins the award, Rhoades and Saylor won’t be there.
Both will graduate from the program in May before heading down to Fort Rucker in Alabama. There, they’ll attend the Aviation Basic Officer Course and Flight School.
Eventually, they’ll both be officers in the U.S. Army, using what they learned at the University of Dayton.