At 100 years old, ROTC at CMC provides discipline and leadership

Military Science Instructor Marino Zarate fires at a target at the ROTC Open House Nov 14. (Elinor Aspegren • The Student Life)

For Jordan Venglass CM ’21, giving back to his country through the Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps is his “life’s calling.”

“Ever since I was a little kid, growing up with my grandfather being an officer in the Army, it just kind of put it into my head as a possible opportunity,” he said.

Venglass is one of the 16 5C members of the Golden Lions Army ROTC battalion, hosted at Claremont McKenna College. Students from other area colleges also participate. In the program, the students work toward an officer position in the military. The biggest incentive for the cadets? A full ride scholarship for their tuition.

According to CMC, military training began at Pomona College in 1916, the ROTC program was authorized by the U.S. government in 1918, and CMC joined Pomona in 1949 as a co-host. The program met intense protests during the Vietnam War, yet did not shut down as many other programs did across the country. In 1995, CMC took charge of the program, and they continue to host it today.

Cadets spend 12-15 hours a week with ROTC, including physical training that can sometimes begin before 5 a.m.

For many of the cadets, military training and being students are not the least of their activities. Venglass runs for the track and field team and works at SOURCE nonprofit consulting, while cadet Hannah Alderete CM ’20 is on the advisory board at the CARE Center, does research for a professor, and volunteers for Uncommon Good.

According to Alderete, “a lot of freshman and sophomores in ROTC pull all-nighters,” but she has been able to strike a balance by working diligently during the day.

“I mostly just find the balance … to complete everything by the end of the day, and I give myself time limits,” she said. “Even in between classes, I’m working on assignments.”

ROTC cadets spend four years training to become officers. Venglass described that in the cadets’ first two years, they “learn how to be a soldier.” By their fourth, they are “practically [running] the training,” cadet Hunter LePla CM ’19 said.

Much of the cadets’ training focuses on learning ethics, LePla added.

“We spend a ton of our time in class talking about ethics and morals and what the right thing to do is, and I don’t think people understand that but that’s a huge focus — especially for officers,” he said. “You have to make tough decisions.”

The program’s capstone takes place the summer before senior year, when ROTC students from across the country spend a month in Fort Knox, Kentucky, applying the skills they’ve learned through their first three years. LePla described it as a grueling experience, as the cadets spend 24 of the 31 days in the forest without returning to buildings.

“It’s one of those things — and this is the case with a lot of things in the Army — where you hate it while you’re doing [it], but you look back on it, you’re glad you did it, and you’ll never forget it,” LePla said.

The ROTC program at CMC celebrated its centennial in October, and has a reputation of producing “some pretty high-achieving cadets,” Venglass said.

“The big significance behind that is [the Golden Lions] is one of the oldest ROTC programs in the country,” he said. “So being able to celebrate the centennial is pretty big because it shows that we have a deep rooted history in Southern California in producing some of the greatest leaders in the Army.”

The centennial, which included a parade on Parents Field, served as a reminder for today’s cadets to remember that the program is bigger than them, LePla said.

“It’s important to remember that you’re focusing on yourself and the current cadets, but there’s 100 years of cadets [who have] graduated and gone on to be officers, and have fought in everything from World War I to now,” he added.

CMC observed Veterans Day on Monday with an Athenaeum talk given by Katherine Horton, ROTC captain and professor of military science, who discussed the importance of females in the military.

Before coming to ROTC, Horton served as one of the first women involved in special forces. Venglass said she provided a “unique perspective into what it is actually like upon graduation.”

Alderete called Horton “a role model.”

“She always tells me not to be afraid, to be loud, [and] not to be afraid to not be as good at first, but to pick it up later on,” Alderete said. “Basically you need to stand up for yourself — you can’t always give excuses for why you’re not a strong leader. You’re capable; you just need to do it.”

Alderete said that Horton is an example that “anyone can do it and eventually reach the goal if [they] want to.”

For many cadets, ROTC provides more than free tuition and a job out of college. Alderete said that being placed in an ROTC leadership role during her junior year has allowed her to mature.

“It’s really put my life in order in a way,” she said. “To actually think about these things early on before it’s too late.”

Overall, Venglass added, ROTC has given him leadership skills beyond those of a typical college student.

“[People are] able to see that I am trained to lead, and it is something that you can’t really debate,” he said. “We are trained to lead soldiers and upon graduation, whether we’re ready or not, once we’re commissioned, we’re going to be put in charge of people’s lives — so being able to be trained for that gives me a unique set of leadership capabilities that a typical college student doesn’t have.”

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