FORT SMITH, Ark. — Leadership skills and life experiences help area students set goals, stay focused and reach their full potential.
The University of Arkansas at Fort Smith’s partnership with the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) helps young men and women maintain high self-esteem, be productive citizens and excel in academics, said Lt. Col. Dwight Ikenberry, an assistant professor of military science at UAFS who oversees the ROTC program.
“The best thing about ROTC is, it’s a leadership curriculum,” he said. “The primary focus is to train and commission officers for the Army — active duty, the National Guard and the Army Reserve — and the students are taught leadership theories and how to apply those to different situations.”
ROTC cadets usually are between ages 18 and 30 and undergo “real situations” via simulated exercises, which include developing and executing plans, Ikenberry said.
“Cadets develop and execute plans, and this develops them as a leader in the military,” he said. “Our classes are on campus but we do a weekly lab, where the students carry out a squad practice. We utilize space at Fort Chaffee once a week when school is in session.”
ROTC also can help cover students’ costs via two-, three- and four-year scholarships, and the benefits cadets obtain in the classroom are numerous, Ikenberry said.
“Cadets learn to manage time, people and resources,” he said. “We have some cadets who are in the Army National Guard and Army Reserve, so they are using educational benefits that they already earned through the service, and by participating in ROTC, they receive additional benefits.”
Among local ROTC graduates are Fort Smith resident Melanie Stout, a microbiology major who will serve in the Army’s field artillery, and Muldrow resident Brandon Stamps, who will go on active duty as a nurse. Stamps will be commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army’s Nurse Corps, while Stout, a former Air National Guard member, is now active with the Arkansas Army National Guard.
Stout also is a member of the 937th Forward Support Group, a unit in the 142nd Fires Brigade of the Field Artillery, and works as a dispatcher for the UAFS University Police. She and Stamps have branched out as students and citizens, said Ikenberry.
“It’s a good, positive program,” he said of ROTC.
ROTC students who are commissioned as cadets receive a “living-expense stipend,” which varies from $350 to $500 a month, Ikenberry said.
“That’s an incentive to stay in, but it also covers expenses the student will have,” he said. “Their tuition is pretty much covered, plus some left over.”
At UAFS, ROTC cadets can work to obtain majors in criminal justice, nursing or any other major UAFS offers, Ikenberry said. ROTC cadets must maintain at least a 2.5 grade point average and full-time student status, he said.
“ROTC students also have to pass the Army’s physical fitness, height and weight standards,” Ikenberry said.
Like ROTC programs, area Junior ROTC programs are leaving a lasting, positive impression on students, said Commander Mike Cheetham of the Navy JROTC Alma High School unit. Cheetham’s program has about 100 students who participate in leadership sessions, exercises and academic competitions.
“This is about exercising leadership — to lead peers,” Cheetham said. “We get them out of their comfort zone and show them that they can really do more than they think they can, if they put their minds to it.”
Team work also is a key factor in JROTC programs, said Lt. Col. Mike Posey with the U.S. Navy JROTC in Greenwood.
“Our students aren’t in the military; this is an academic class,” he said. “We teach a leadership module, and we don’t just tell the students to study, but we show the students how to study.”
JROTC cadets in Greenwood participate in classes such as science, global studies, aviation and astronomy, with a focus on “life-after-high-school events,” Posey said. The latter activities help prepare students for post-school life, he said.
“We use those to talk about job resumes, interviews, filling out job applications, credit, banking systems and all of the things that come into play for people after school,” Posey said.
About 5 percent of the Greenwood JROTC students will pursue time in the U.S. military; that percentage is about the national average, he said.
“We’ll have a few go into the military, but with our group, the kids aren’t committed to going into the military,” said Mike Altrogee, unit commander for the River Valley Young Marines. “Our group is a citizenship program, and we have kids from Mountainburg, Alma, Fort Smith, Mansfield, Booneville and even Oklahoma.”
RVYM members range in age from 8 to 18 and learn about the importance of the National Anthem and the Pledge of Allegiance, as well as about team work, self-discipline, leadership and physical fitness, he said.
“Our kids will do 50 hours of community service a year, and they work out of four books,” Altrogee said. “They start out as a private and work their way up.”
RVYM members can earn ribbons by maintaining good grades and for swimming and boating, he said. Ribbons also are awarded to RVYM members who help veterans, Altrogee said.
“The River Valley Young Marines is moral-building and character-building, and it shows the importance of a drug-free lifestyle,” he said. “We’re a busy, active group, and it’s great for these kids.”