Cadets on campus gain degrees, training, leadership skills through ROTC

Gabriela Olivier, Gunnar Ehlers, Matt Ebenstein displaying and escorting the American flag at Gen. Richard B. Myers Hall on Sep 20, 2021. (Dylan Connell | Collegian Media Group)

The Kansas State Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps was first formed on campus in 1863. The K-State ROTC program is one of the oldest in the nation and has achieved many goals over the years while training incoming Army officers.

“Essentially what we do in ROTC is we try and develop leaders to become future lieutenants in the United States Army,” Gunnar Ehlers, junior in finance and cadet sergeant major, said.

As students work their way through the program, they learn how to become better officers to help them in the future. Officers are tasked with making big decisions in stressful situations and entrusted with the safety of people under their control.

“Officers are a very important part in the Army, and there are future generals in the program right now,” Sgt. David Brooks, military science instructor, said. “The Reserve Officers’ Training Corps is one of the three big commissioning sources for obtaining information in the Army as an officer.”

A bachelor’s degree and officer training are required to obtain a position as an officer in the Army. Besides the ROTC program, going to the United States Military Academy Westpoint or taking part in the 12-week long Officer Candidate School (OCS) can fulfill the necessary requirements to becoming an officer.

“You need a bachelor’s degree in order to be an Army officer, and this is a way that the Army kind of adapted so that they can get officers as soon as they graduate,” Austin Grabill, graduate student in business administration and U.S. Army ROTC cadet, said.

ROTC students not only take courses in their interests and majors but also take courses for conceptual leadership in the Army, infantry, platoon and squad tactics. They also take part in Army physical training or PT. These courses take place both in the classroom and in the field where students practice hands-on.

“I connect back to high school sports,” Edward Weiner, senior in mechanical engineering and U.S. Army ROTC cadet, said. “When you’re in high school sports, you condition together, you play the games together and … in general, went through the suck together. In ROTC, there are moments like that.”

Brooks said he enjoys watching the cadets he mentors grow as he sees them begin to fully understand the topics they cover and the purpose behind them.

I enjoyed taking that group that doesn’t have an understanding of something I have an understanding of … and seeing the light bulb turn on when they realize the relevance of what we are talking about,” Brooks said. “I like to see people grow and see them develop skills, and I think that is what I enjoy about it the most.”

Like many others in the program, Ehlers said he knew he wanted to join the Army at a young age. Some family members informed Ehlers as he grew up about positions throughout the Army and the ROTC programs.

“My father taught ROTC for a little when I was younger so I learned about ROTC at a young age,” Ehlers said. “So just knowing that and then, you know, coming from a family with military officers, kind of always just seemed like the right thing to do.”

Brooks is an active duty member of the Army, which he said helps him in teaching the MS3s — typically juniors — in their courses within the program. Brooks said he enjoys the opportunity to grow himself while using his past experiences to help teach the future of Army officers.

“Being involved in ROTC was a good opportunity to stay tied into something relevant for me in the Army, in training future officers and progressing my own education,” Brooks said. “Having an opportunity to influence them at a very early stage in their lives and in their careers is great for everybody.”

Grabill is running for the Navy Federal All-American Award, showcasing the best cadets in the program. Like Grabill, his father went through the ROTC program and also placed within the top 100 cadets in the nation. Earning the award as one of the best in the nation opens doors for more choices in the future.

I’m in the top four for that right now and the top one will be released in December sometime,” Grabill said. “It gives me more of an ability to choose what occupation I want in the military, which is another great opportunity that ROTC offers.”

Similarly, Weiner has also placed at the Navy Federal All-American this year and was awarded the best cadet this past year.

“Last year I won the ‘Army Cadet of the Year’ in the Navy Federal ROTC All-American competition/program they have,” Weiner said. “This year, among the national ranking of all the cadets, I placed third.”

ROTC allows many students to work through college while teaching them leadership skills useful in their future commissions. ROTC has many opportunities for traditional and non-traditional students, from scholarships to programs that allow them to pivot attention on their studies.

“It was nice to know that I could focus on my studies, not worry about [expenses] because the Army will help take care of the finances of it so that you can focus on school,” Ehlers said.

ROTC not only strives to build great leaders to help defend the United States but also gives these students confidence in themselves and their team.

“ROTC pushed me to do things I didn’t think that I could do, and as a result, I have gained confidence in myself through experiences I wouldn’t have been able to have any other way,” Weiner said.

Students like Weiner are already planning where they hope to go after K-State to continue the education that will benefit them as Army officers.

“Hopefully, I will go to Fort Sill and become an artillery officer because that is where the artillery course is,” Weiner said. “Then, off to wherever my first duty is after I complete that.”

Each group of ROTC students helps build the program stronger and more competitive, which will help individual officers in finding more success in their future careers.

“I’m looking forward to seeing all my peers graduate, and I look forward to making the program as competitive as possible so that when they graduate, they will most likely get the jobs that they want and need to be successful in their career,” Grabill said.

The ROTC program benefits many cadets over the years at K-State.

“The focus isn’t necessarily how good of a tactician you are but how good of a leader you are,” Weiner said. “ROTC is all about developing leaders.”

More information about ROTC opportunities and other Army programs is on the U.S. Army website.