Center teaches cadets to work together in military leadership

As America continues in its role as a world-wide military leader, cadets back home are continuing to learn the importance of teamwork.

USF ROTC cadets learn how to work with all branches of the military, as well as with coalition forces abroad, all under one roof – a program that is the only one of its kind in the nation.

John Sarao, associate director of the Joint Military Leadership Center (JMLC), more commonly known as C.W. Bill Young Hall, said the facility has attracted the attention of several other colleges and universities around the country who are looking to implement a similar program.

“We would like our junior officers to know that when they leave here, they are not only going to be working for our military, but with other nations as well,” Sarao said. “We have to learn a little bit more about them and how they operate so that we can see their perspectives and bridge the cultural barriers.”

JMLC promotes collaboration among the three ROTC branches: Navy, Air Force and Army. Yet Sarao said the program also fosters a friendly competition within the branches such as a flag football tournament between the three branches during football season, while providing students with leadership and combat training.

“What we would like is for (the students) to be more aware of other services: what their capabilities are, what their limitations are and what service culture is like,” Sarao said. “We still like to have that competition between them and it’s good to have that, but when it comes to the fact that we are fighting a war, we want our students to know how to work together.”

It was the desire for a novel approach to military training that led to the program’s creation. In order to get a grant from the Department of Defense in August 2004 to help fund the construction of the facility, Sarao said Congressman Bill Young and Gen. Tommy Franks of Central Command suggested USF create “something unique.”

“(USF) President (Judy) Genshaft was really interested in providing a facility to house all the ROTC programs in, because we were spread out in different areas (on campus),” he said. “The idea came (to) have a center that emphasizes jointness for training our ROTC students because the way we fight all our wars nowadays is all jointly.”

Now, students enrolled in ROTC programs can be found in the building’s lounges and computer labs studying alongside students entering different branches of the military. They can even practice fighting “jointly” in a combat training simulator that allows them to practice their marksmanship.

“We have an Engagement Skills Trainer, which is a weapons training simulator that the Army uses for training. People can qualify with their M9 pistols and M16 assault rifle without having to go to an actual firing range, it can be simulated,” Sarao said. “The weapons that we have are the real thing, only with the firing pin removed and are hooked up to a computer and the training is very realistic.”

He said USF is the only university to own such a simulator, which is “as real as you can get without shooting bullets.” The simulator, which cost approximately $1-2 million in grant money, includes everything from a firing range to different simulated environments.

Larry Braue, director of Veteran Services, said having all three branches of the military represented on one campus in one building provides advantages for all those involved or interested in the military.

“I think it’s a big advantage for anybody who has prior service and has been in the military … and wants to go back in as an officer,” Braue said. “ROTC is a good avenue for them and the fact that all the branches are here, their options are much greater. It helps make it more of a military-friendly campus.”

He said the mix of veterans, ROTC cadets and all branches creates a better understanding of the military and more opportunities for those interested in getting involved.

“It’s a program that takes college students and trains them to be leaders in whatever branch they choose and prepares them to keep people alive in combat,” Braue said. “I think it is the best leadership development program in the nation.”