Before I stepped on the storied campus of Georgetown University, I really didn’t know what a soldier was. Sure, I had seen the annoyingly patriotic commercials urging me to be “an Army of one.” I met the Army recruiter who came to my school and I thought he was a pretty cool guy. But throughout my high-school years, my image of the typical soldier morphed from an abstract image of a hero out to save the world to a picture of a gun-toting imperialist stooge. As I graduated, I moved toward ambivalence. I didn’t care one way or the other about the military.
Coming into Georgetown as a scared little freshman, the Army was the last thing on my mind. I was more worried about fitting in and finding my place on a large and scary campus than anything having to do with the military. Then I heard about Army ROTC. To be honest, I really don’t know why I joined ROTC. The military had never really been my thing before. Perhaps something about it simply sounded mysterious and intriguing. Perhaps some of it was the potential for financial aid. I don’t really know why I did it, but I do know that joining up was one of the best decisions I have ever made. Many people join ROTC because of the camaraderie. Others join because of the top-notch leadership training. But I value the program because, simply put, it has radically changed my perceptions on the Army and the people in it.
Most cadets I know are regular students, albeit ones who must wake up at 6 a.m. every morning for physical exercise and who sacrifice their weekends for training. I think some of the finest people on campus are in the program. I’m talking about the young men or women who are struggling to afford an expensive private college education and are turning to the army to make their dreams a reality. I’m talking about the young people who genuinely believe it is their patriotic duty to serve their country and will do anything possible to serve others.
Being an ROTC cadet isn’t always easy. Much of the tough part is all the training and the waking up early. Yet with hard work, we can all get through that. There are more important things to think about such as the secret fear many cadets have of impending deployment in places like Iraq or Afghanistan. The world is a violent place; combat is often an unfortunate reality of the Army, and we all know it. But it might surprise you to know though there is something even more frightening than combat to many Army personnel. It’s the fear that the civilian world simply doesn’t appreciate the sacrifices military people are making.
The next time you see someone in fatigues around campus, keep in mind that they are probably a future officer in the U. S. Army. Give them a smile or shake their hand. Tell them you respect the sacrifice they’re making to protect us all. A year ago, I didn’t know what the Army was all about. In fact, I was probably a little frightened of it. But now I know some of the amazing people who populate our armed forces and I can tell you that each and every cadet I’ve met is an exceptional person. If these bright and inspirational individuals are the future leaders of the military and our nation, we should all be proud. In my view, each and every cadet who receives his commission is a hero worthy of respect and admiration. You’re all heroes to me, guys, and I hope everyone else shares that view.
Moises Mendoza is a freshman in the School of Foreign Service.