UT is tops in ROTC recruiting

Published 10:33 am Wednesday, October 18, 2023

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More students are choosing to start their military careers at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, due to the strong reputation of its Army and Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps programs.

At the beginning of the fall 2023 semester, UT’s ROTC programs had more than 340 cadets in their ranks, including 107 first-year students — the largest first-year class two years in a row.

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Army Program Among Top for Recruiting

UT’s Rocky Top Battalion is the third largest among the nation’s 275 college and university Army ROTC programs (not including those at senior military colleges). It has been the top program in that group for recruiting the past two years and is one of only two with an increase in applications this year.

“Both my parents graduated from Tennessee, so I grew up a Volunteer,” said first-year Army ROTC cadet Zackrey Duncan, of Signal Mountain, Tennessee. “I also knew from an early age that I wanted to serve my country, so the Rocky Top Battalion with its deep history and great Army resources seemed like the ideal place to become an Army officer while getting a degree from a university that’s in my DNA.”

“Most units are having a hard time keeping their programs full, with recruiting issues across all services, but UT Army ROTC — across the other campuses too — has record freshman enrollment,” said Professor of Military Science Lindy Clark, a U.S. Army captain.

This summer, Rocky Top Battalion juniors performed in the top 10% during Cadet Summer Training at Fort Knox, Kentucky. The largest annual training event in the Army, the 35-day CST tests cadets’ problem-solving skills and evaluates their potential to become officers. Thirty-two percent of UT’s cadets who attended CST achieved a rating of Outstanding — the highest possible — surpassing the Army average of 26%.

Because of their record of success in academics, physical fitness and training evaluations, UT’s cadets have a higher average of getting their first choice of Army career fields upon graduation — 84% compared to the national average of 65%.

“There is a culture and a vibe on campus at UT — it’s super friendly, very helpful and welcoming. We’ve been told by other people who come to visit there’s a spirit and energy here, and I think our ROTC program mirrors that,” said Kent Maddox, UT’s Army ROTC program enrollment and scholarship officer.

Air Force Program Opportunities Soar

During the 2022-23 academic year UT’s Air Force ROTC program commissioned 21 cadets, its largest class in over a decade. The program welcomed 42 first-year cadets for fall semester.

UT’s Air Force ROTC program, Detachment 800, has consistently ranked in the top third of the Southeast region for grade point average and physical fitness standards. The region includes 38 detachments in nine states and Puerto Rico and is the nation’s largest region by cadet population. Over 90% of UT’s Air Force ROTC cadets who pursue careers in aviation, such as pilots and navigators, are selected for their chosen field. The program offers a range of partnerships with organizations including Boeing, Y-12, Oshkosh Corporation and Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Assistant Professor of Air Force Aerospace Studies Holly Livingston, a U.S. Air Force captain, said the program is seeking individuals with a teamwork mindset. She added that UT’s 1-to-20 ratio of military instructors to students means that cadets receive tailored mentorship and guidance on their journey to becoming commissioned officers in the U.S. Air Force and Space Force.

“We are very proud of the hard work our cadets and cadre dedicate to produce the highest caliber of officers to fight our nation’s wars and secure our nation’s future,” said Livingston.

Professor and Head of Air Force Aerospace Studies Damien Johnson, a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force, is the new commander of UT’s Air Force ROTC. Johnson said that building on the Space Force side is important and will set UT above other programs.

“With UT’s long-standing success in engineering and STEM degrees, it’s a perfect match to recruit talented individuals who feel the desire to serve and create leading-edge solutions for our nation’s toughest challenges against peer adversaries,” said Johnson. “I look forward to expanding our current Space Force program to become the top producer of Space Force commissioned officers in the ROTC enterprise, and in doing so, UT will propel the Air Force and Space Force to new heights.”

Space Force was established in 2019 as a new military service branch. Its mission is to protect the United States in the space domain with satellites and other technologies, including cyber operations.

Increasing Access to ROTC

As an additional benefit for Army and Air Force ROTC students in Tennessee, crosstown agreements allow students to participate in a college or university ROTC program while enrolled at another nearby school. UT has a crosstown agreement with Pellissippi State Community College, meaning that full-time students at PSCC who intend to transfer to UT to complete their undergraduate studies can participate in ROTC programs at UT.

“I was awarded the Tennessee Promise. As a recipient, I can go to Pellissippi State Community College for two years free and transfer here to UT to finish my undergraduate degree,” said Air Force ROTC cadet Selah Kiehl of Knoxville. “UT’s AFROTC crosstown agreement with PSCC allows me to enter the program and pursue a military career.”

The legacy of military service at UT emerged from the Morrill Act of 1862, which established a military training curriculum among the conditions for land-grant educational institutions. UT was established as a land-grant institution in 1869, and the National Defense Act of 1916 changed UT’s military organization into an ROTC unit to commission students as second lieutenants.

Receiving in-state tuition

In June 2022, UT’s Board of Trustees approved a measure classifying military-affiliated students — veterans, active-duty military personnel, reservists, Tennessee National Guard members, and Army and Air Force ROTC cadets — as Tennessee residents, enabling them to receive the in-state tuition rate regardless of their residence of origin. The benefit began last fall after it was approved by the Tennessee General Assembly and signed into law by Gov. Bill Lee.