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ROTC programs prepping for unique change

Three new commanding officers won’t be the only major change to ROTC at USF.

Army Lt. Col. Jackson Self, Air Force Lt. Col. Bradford Ward and Navy Capt. Martin Smith, all of whom replace retired predecessors, now must not only deal with adjusting to a new home, but must also face a unique challenge: Turn USF’s three ROTC units — Army, Air Force and Navy — into a one-of-a-kind joint program that no other college ROTC organization in the nation has endeavored.

“What we’re trying to do,” said Executive Director of the Joint Military Science Leadership Center Luis Visot, “is something that nobody has done before.”

The vision of an intertwined, cohesive ROTC program — which is scheduled to hit ROTC classrooms next fall — has the approval and the support from each branch’s new leaders.

“It’s a very exciting and truly unique idea,” said Ward, who was last stationed in Colorado Springs.

“This program will allow all the ROTC programs to do things jointly,” Self said. “In our case, it will allow cadets to experience not only Army leadership, but Navy and Air Force as well.”

At the center of this new joint program is the Joint Military Science Leadership Center, a facility that will contain a 200-seat auditorium as well as offices and classrooms for use by every branch. Construction is scheduled to begin in January and if all goes as planned, doors will open in November of next year, said Visot, who is overseeing the planning and construction for the building.

“This building will allow the three programs to work far more closely,” Visot said.

To fund the new facility, USF received a $6-million appropriation from the federal government, $5 million of which will be used for construction while the rest will fund research and planning, Visot said. The building will be constructed just west of the Physical Education Building.

“The building is just the start,” Visot said. “The second part is developing a curriculum.”According to Ward, the National Defense University in Washington, D.C., is working on a joint-branch curriculum.

Inside the classroom, Visot envisions teachers or representatives from each branch instructing generic topics, such as leadership and ethics.

“Each would be able to bring a different flavor and culture,” he said. “The new cadets will be provided the opportunity to appreciate the abilities and capabilities of all the services. When they graduate they’ll have a better understanding of the military. That’s invaluable.”

All three commanders, who have met on many occasions to discuss the upcoming changes, are qualified to handle the shifting ROTC environment at USF, Visot said.

“They all have extensive experience, not only in their branches but also in joint operations,” he said.

Smith, who arrived in July fresh off a stint as chief of staff, commander of the U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command, calls USF “dynamic” and is excited to start teaching students who he thinks will welcome a more synergetic ROTC program.

“The thing about youth today is that they dig change,” said Smith, who is also a professor of naval science. “When I was their age, change was something that caused fear. Today, they’re not satisfied with the present, they see the future and it excites them. It’s good stuff.”

Smith, a former naval aviator, says he isn’t planning to implement any major changes, but due to the atmosphere around the program, he thinks it’s inevitable.

“You can just see the expansion,” he said. “It’s going to be a very dynamic year.”

As for Army ROTC, Self doesn’t foresee any major changes inside the program, saying that it “has grown a lot and is going in a good direction.”

Ward echoed Self’s assertion, saying that not much alteration is needed inside the Air Force unit. Instead, Ward is focused and excited about the prospect of joint classrooms.

“I think having them in the same room, talking to them about not only air and space power, but naval power and ground power and how they all work together, is a great opportunity.”

Self, who also teaches military science and leadership, says having three new commanders will aide, not hamper, any new plans for the future of ROTC at USF.

“Sometimes it’s better to make a wholesale change,” he said. “I think having the three new commanders together, we can all say, ‘This is a good idea, let’s run with this,’ versus someone saying, ‘Well, we’ve never done it that way.'”

Self, who taught at Colorado State before arriving at USF, credits a solid relationship with the administration for allowing the ROTC program to evolve.

“The administration is very supportive of what we do,” he said. “That’s very important. Some schools are not that way, and interacting with the University is a chore; here, it’s not.”

Visot, who is also a Lt. Col. in the U.S. Army Reserves, thinks this new program will benefit the university, adding that the three new commanders are more than capable.

“Nobody in the nation is doing anything like this,” he said. “Hopefully they can leave a legacy that the University can be proud of.”