Young officers gain new perspective at NU

The presence of commissioned Army officers from the New Mexico Military Institute (NMMI) in Roswell, N.M., is increasing on the Norwich University campus.

2nd Lt. Paul “Jacob” Cortez, 23, a senior studies of war and peace major from Huston, Texas, helped to lay the foundation for the other students along with only one other NMMI officer, Gabrielle Miller.  When the two second lieutenants, nicknamed “LT’s,” arrived in the fall of 2011, they were the only ones from NMMI to come to Norwich.

Having gone through the two-year Early Commissioning Program (ECP), they live as civilian students apart from the Corps of Cadets, while still maintaining a relationship with the Army ROTC department.  Within this program, the LT’s commission in two years, which usually involves four years of ROTC. They then finish their bachelor degrees at another university while serving in the National Guard.

In the front, 2nd Lt. Patrick O’Rielly. Second row left to right: 2nd Lt. Sam Olds and 2nd Lt. Andy Pyun. Third row left to right: 2nd Lt. Peter Nelson, 2nd Lt. Gabrielle Miller, 2nd Lt. Jacob Cortez, and 2nd Lt. Cooper Baucke. (Thomas Carson Photo)

In the front, 2nd Lt. Patrick O’Rielly. Second row left to right: 2nd Lt. Sam Olds and 2nd Lt. Andy Pyun. Third row left to right: 2nd Lt. Peter Nelson, 2nd Lt. Gabrielle Miller, 2nd Lt. Jacob Cortez, and 2nd Lt. Cooper Baucke. (Thomas Carson Photo)

Currently, there are eight NMMI LT’s and many other NMMI students who did not commission at Norwich.  Having come from a military school themselves, there are many comparisons and contrasts to be made between the two programs.

2nd Lt. Samuel Olds, 21, a junior history major from Lakeland, Fla., went to NMMI with his twin brother as a freshman in college.  Regardless of a student’s class year, from high schoolers through college -level cadets, all first years at NMMI go through their “Rat year,” which Olds said is comparable to NU’s Rook year. Rat year is strenuous.

“It’s quite shocking (becoming a Rat) because you have nothing,” Olds said of his first year away from home.  “Everything is stripped away from you,” Olds said, of having all material possessions taken away, as well as any reputation previously earned.

NU’s Rookdom, like NMMI’s, lasts for 25 percent of the cadets’ career at the school.  However, because NMMI is a two-year college program, the military immersion and training is a 24/7 lifestyle, as opposed to NU students having off-duty hours post-recognition.

Another NMMI lieutenant, 2nd Lt. Thomas “Cooper” Baucke, 21, an accounting major hailing from Cincinnati, Ohio, is currently writing a book about his alma mater.

“We practice military all the time,” Baucke said.  For instance, cadets at NMMI must be in some kind of uniform at all times, while recognized NU cadets may wear civilian attire after the duty day closes.

The process for leaving campus, for a more elaborate example, is stricter than that of NU. “We had to give a full fledged 5 W’s,” Cortez said, referring to all of the information that had to be passed up the Monday prior to the weekend of desired leave.

As per NMMI regulations, the cadets must not drink alcohol even if of age, use any tobacco products, or engage in any sort of relationship.  They have to be back on campus by 5 p.m. for formation on Sunday.

The NMMI Rat program is rigorous, Cortez said, and is responsible for the high wash-out rate for many of the cadets.  “It’s designed to be like an OCS program for two straight years.”  Cortez, for example, entered among a class of 106 Rats and commissioned with 22 cadets.

“Looking at it as a cadet at Norwich, I would say that four years of Norwich as a cadet is the same as two years of being a cadet at NMMI,” Olds said, comparing NU and NMMI.

However, NU’s program has a different approach to teaching students. “(Norwich students) need to figure things out on (their) own,” Olds said, considering the amount of freedom given to the NU students versus those at NMMI.  “It’s basically just ‘you.’  But, you can do whatever you need to get help from your cadre (and) your peers.  We had that at NMMI, but it was pressured on to us.  At Norwich, it’s given to you as an option.”

2nd Lt. Harold “Wes” Jansen, 21, a junior biology major from Palmer, Ala., speaks to the difference in the student’s attitudes toward one another.  “(NMMI is) a school where everybody’s goal is to leave.  Their final destination is not NMMI,” he said, “it’s to go through NMMI.”

The difference in the mind-set of the student body is profound to Jansen as an athlete.  “Even on the football team, (NMMI players) play against each other to get tape,” Jansen said, comparing the two teams.  “People play (at NU) because they play football.”

“I feel like cadets (at NU) have more responsibility in the Corps of Cadets,” Olds said, specifically comparing the two corps.  “I feel like Norwich was the one source of leadership that expanded out and influenced other schools,” Olds said.

Like all of the LT’s, Cortez had his own unique path to NMMI before NU.  However, his journey is vastly different from those of the other LT’s.

As a middle schooler, Cortez would go on a trip to Colorado with his family and pass through Roswell, N.M.  This was the first time he saw his future alma mater. “Little did I know as I passed this castle-like structure that I thought was a prison that I would go there one day,” he remembered.

As an eighth grader he worked hard academically and paid for his application to NMMI on his own.  He was granted acceptance and entered his Rat year as a freshman in high school. “That year I knew I would do well because I wanted to be there,” he said of his earning the number one Rat award for his class year.

However, after his success at NMMI, he was forced to stay away for the following year due to a family tragedy.  He continued high school in a military program, enlisted and served in the Army.  “I had no desire to be an officer,” Cortez said of that time in his life.  Much like a number of the other NMMI LT’s, he wanted to serve as an enlisted man.

After being recommended and encouraged by his officers to attend NMMI and commission, he returned to NMMI as an Army specialist and finished his second year in the ECP program.  “I (was) accepted as soon as I walked in.”

“I wanted to find a place where I would learn to be a better lieutenant,” he said about his time deciding where to go next after NMMI.  At the encouragement of NU alum serving at NMMI, Cortez set his sights on the military school on the hill, Norwich.  He has since earned his desired active duty slot and will be graduating this coming May.

As a way to set up for his military career, he attended NMMI as a USAF Academy prep student for his senior year.

For his part, Baucke was medically disqualified from the USAF Academy and had to consider what his next step would be in his pursuit of a military career.  “I actually still to this day have that rejection letter and one day I will go and put it on their door,” he said, using the experience as motivation.

Jansen also attended NMMI for the prep schools, preparing for West Point.  However, he chose the Army’s ROTC  (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps) route at NMMI to commission for a better chance of furthering his education in the medical field after his undergraduate degree.

Andrew Pyun, 20, a junior health sciences major from La Habra, Calif., is the most recent addition to the NMMI family at NU.

“I didn’t want to be an officer at first, it just happened,” Pyun said.  After nearly enlisting in the Marine Corps and then the Air Force, Pyun decided to apply to NMMI to avoid waiting any longer on beginning his military career.  “I think I fit better as an officer.”

2nd Lt. Patrick Reilly, 21, a junior criminal justice major from Albuquerque, N.M. also originally planned on a career in the U.S. Marine Corps, but chose to go to NMMI and then NU  to become an active duty Army officer.

Originally, Pyun was going to go to Bowling Green, however NU’s greater opportunity to earn an Army active duty slot upon graduation enticed him.  Having known that 2nd. Lt. Cortez had received active duty status, Pyun considered his ability to earn the same.  “If he can do it, I can do it.”

While participating in this past year’s Bold Leader Challenge, an annual physical and mental challenge course for teams from different ROTC units, Pyun wagered on his next step.  “I betted (with myself) that if the Norwich team one beats NMMI team one, I’m definitely going to go to Norwich.”

“I had this desire to go and learn new things and if I could travel somewhere, that’d be great.  And if I could serve my country while doing that at the same time then that’s even better,” Olds said.  After arriving at NU, he and the other NMMI alums formed a group with Cortez and Miller.

“We are a lot closer than we were at NMMI, when we came here we meshed more.” Olds said.  “That’s the best part,” Olds said about having a small group of different individuals all able to help one another in different ways.

Aside from the two officers, according to Reilly, other cadets from NMMI were also attending NU when he came in the Fall. “It was a bit of a shock to see how many people from NMMI were actually here.”

Another perk that comes with attending NU is that the LT’s Educational Assistance Program (EAP) pays for all of the tuition costs. “One of the big things for us is that everything is paid for,” Baucke said.  Additionally, the LT’s are eligible for the General I.D. White Scholarship, which pays for housing at NU so long at the student maintains at least a 2.5 GPA.

But, there is a catch to accepting such an offer to attend a four-year university for free: added service time. “We are basically on a full ride but the payoff that we have to give is two extra years of service,” Cortez said.

Another weighty factor in Pyun’s decision to attend NU was the reputation of the ECP LT’s at the different schools he was considering.  “It’s all about reputation (when) trying to find a school,” Pyun said.  “Before any of the ECP’s go to a school, they should see how the reputation of the ECP (cadet) is at the school.”

The result of past ECP commissioned officers “not doing what they need to do as lieutenants,” such as not maintaining their physical fitness or attending drill, is that the future LT’s inherit a bad reputation.  This stigma is difficult to overcome, said Pyun.

“A lot of schools are skeptical about our program,” Baucke said, adding to another facet of the skepticism: the NMMI graduate’s shortened cadet experience.

“We, as ECP graduates, understand that we are at a disadvantage because we are at a superior rank for our bracket but we (have) inexperience for our age group,” Cortez said, agreeing with Baucke. The continuation of their mentorship while at NU allows the young officers to “continue to grow.”

For Pyun, a major obstacle many of the NMMI cadets face is how to balance their new-found freedom while attending Norwich.  “I don’t know what to do in the mornings anymore,” Pyun said. The more relaxed atmosphere NU fosters in comparison to NMMI is a positive change.

“It’s nice being free, honestly,” he said of NU.  “It’s a lot more relaxed.”

“It was basically the real college experience we were all thinking about while we were at NMMI,” Reilly said.

The experience at Norwich has other positive aspects, as well as fulfilling what the lieutenants missed while at NMMI. “I feel like it’s good because you find out who you really are.  You need to figure out your own responsibilities.  I feel like it’s a good change because you notice the problems with(in) yourself.”

Not falling in to three formations a day, picking pecans or marching in parades nearly every weekend, or marching to every meal, are all distinct adjustments the NMMI alums make when they attend NU.  However, interacting, working with, and living among NU’s civilian student body as commissioned officers is a change the LT’s differ in opinion on.

“It’s truly different,” Pyun said about living as a civilian student and Army officer on campus.  “We (LT’s) come here and (think) ‘how are cadets and civilians living together or working together.  It blows my mind.”

“I think it’s important that Norwich has integrated, but I think that there are a lot of standing customs that divide the two lifestyles,” Cortez said of the progressing integration of the campus and the potential for a better relationship among the student body.

The difference in opinion among the NMMI group comes into play when comparing the two corps programs.  “I think that (having a civilian side on campus) doesn’t brainwash the cadets as much,” Pyun said, considering the idea that cadets at NU can go to class and talk to other students in a relaxed environment.

“Three easy words: Duty, honor, achievement.  It’s our credo,” Cortez said of the motto ingrained in the NMMI cadets. “It parallels to what Norwich is all about, that citizen soldier. We do them both. We all hold very significant roles in the (National) Guard, we all have civilian things that we get to do. But, we also know that at all times we have to remember why we are here: to train and to graduate as better officers.”

“Just because you take off your uniform, doesn’t mean you stop being a leader,” Baucke said of the mentality he learned through his experience at NMMI.

Apart from leading the double life of a cadet and a student, tacking on the role as an Army officer is exciting for those like Pyun. “Actually being a lieutenant, being a PL and having my own soldiers (is) awesome,” he said.

During the new lieutenant’s first Army drill, his commander picked him up from the campus. He was given charge of two platoons or soldiers and led up frigid Jay Peak. He was instructed to teach cold weather survival, which he admits to having had little experience with having come from a desert climate, and to lead his platoons down the mountain with no compass or GPS. “I had to be confident about it,” he said.

The LT’s are able to hone their officer-ship skills through assisting the NU Army department cadre.  However, there are not as many opportunities for hands-on involvement as some, such as Pyun, would like to take advantage of. “I wish I could do a lot,” he said.

However, Pyun said that the NU Army cadre fear that the freshly commissioned LT’s will become overwhelmed by their officer duties, academic obligations, and assisting the Army ROTC department. “They’re scared to have us do too much so that our GPA (grade point average) drops.”

The involvement and the familiarity of the military curriculum is possibly a positive prospect for those anxious to be involved like Pyun. “I think that doing less is worse than doing more,” Pyun said, who knows that he tends to become “lazy” if left with a wide-open schedule.

In particular, Pyun wants to be involved with the NU Ranger Challenge Team. “I know I can’t compete anymore,” the former NMMI team member said, “but to at least PT (physically train) with them (would be great).”

The ability to help and train rising NU cadets while attending NU is an important part of the LT’s training to be better officers as well. “That’s what we’re here for, to help train and mold the future leaders of tomorrow,” Baucke said.

“I think once we start getting more NMMI kids, Norwich will start seeing more of a resemblance.  The cadets will start noticing the lieutenants a lot more, maybe we will start having more roles as far as in ROTC,” Olds said, considering the wave of NMMI alums slated to come to NU in the fall. “If they give us more options to help out the ROTC, I know that I want to help out a lot more. We are here to help you, just ask.”

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