Through films such as Forrest Gump, the media trains the public toward misconceptions about the military however, USF’s Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) refute those stereotypes. With a focus on building community and self-empowerment, they strive to uphold the positive values of U.S. military culture, particularly with regard to women.
“The movies that are about military operations, I watch ‘em and they’re very entertaining,” said Col. James Cardoso, Professor of Aerospace Studies and Detachment Commander of USF Air Force ROTC. “But the level of accuracy is a lot of the times very low and that’s for dramatic effect. Or else people aren’t going to go watch it.”
According to Commander John Sarao, Director of the Joint Military Leadership Center for USF ROTC, only one percent of the American population has been raised around military personnel and culture.
He admits that false perceptions continue to exist largely due to the public’s lack of exposure to the armed forces except through the internet or the news.
“I think it’s offensive to a certain point,” said Meghan Hayes, USF Senior in the Air Force ROTC. “But at the end of the day it doesn’t affect me. This program has been the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I’ve gained so much confidence, and I’ve been empowered through the challenges I’ve overcome, making me a better person, a better cadet, daughter, friend (and) girlfriend. It just transcends into all areas of my life.”
Hayes credits her commitment to ROTC for her development as a leader. This year Hayes will be a Cadet, the highest rank a student may hold in Air Force ROTC, and will also be acting as Mission Support Group Commander for Air Force ROTC Leadership Team. She expressed that she has not been hindered by her gender in achieving her goals within the program.
“I want to wake up and put the uniform on everyday. I want to keep growing,” Hayes said. “It doesn’t stop with commission, you continue to grow throughout your whole career. I never really experience negative feedback from civilians for being a woman in the military. I get a lot of actually positive responses. I think they just think it’s bad-ass.”
Whitney Longenecker, a USF Junior entering her second year in Air Force ROTC as Public Affairs Officer and an Officer Cadet, describes ROTC as being an outlet and support system in her life. She said it has helped her overcome her past and has received guidance from both male and female peers throughout the process.
“ROTC culture is a very tight-knit group,” Longenecker said. “Most of my friends in the program are all guys, I have never actually experienced being left out because of it. They actually make more of an effort to bring me in and I’ve seen them do that with other females as well.”
Christine Borgia, Academic Program Specialist for ROTCs, attests to this open partnership community among ROTC students. She affirms that in her 15 years with the program she has seen an increase in the number of women in ROTC, asserting that the stereotype of women being undervalued in the military is not valid.
“I think that women have come in with a preconceived thought and have found that that’s not really the case,” Borgia said. “You know, you hear about the glass ceiling, there really is no glass ceiling in the ROTC. One of our females who graduated from here two years ago went to flight school and she graduated top of her flight class out of everyone, male and female.”
Cardoso expresses pride in the equal opportunity atmosphere offered by ROTC. He asserts that with hard work cadets from any background may be successful.
“There’s no limits for a young female that wants to serve, wants to do something different,” Cardoso said. “The Air Force just sees them as officers and what we do with them is based on their skill sets. It’s not just going to be white guys, it’s going to be the entire gamut of society.
“You’ll see a lot of diversity across the board. There are a lot of females here, they’re going out and doing all the roles that the Air Force has, and they’re fantastic.”