By KASEY TYRING
Eastern received startling news earlier this fall: A handful of universities were told to close their R.O.T.C. programs and send their cadets packing to find a program at some other university.
Of the 13 R.O.T.C. programs slated to be shutdown, four were at universities located within 350 miles of Eastern—which meant that Eastern stood a good chance of getting an influx of new cadets.
“We were working closely with Morehead State to take all their freshmen and sophomores transfers,” said Lt. Col. Ralph Hudnall, a professor of military science at Eastern who also oversees the university’s R.O.T.C. program. “I thought we were getting a dozen students which I was kind of happy it would make our program even bigger.”
But that all changed this week when the U.S. Army announced that it had spoken too soon—yes, the R.O.T.C. programs would still be shut down, but they would first allow all the cadets in the program to finish at their respective schools.
The R.O.T.C. cuts were proposed earlier this year: 13 programs around the nation, including Morehead State University and three schools in neighboring Tennessee—Tennessee Tech University, University of Tennessee at Martin and East Tennessee State University—would lost their R.O.T.C. programs.
The programs were given a two-year deadline in which to allow for juniors and seniors to finish their R.O.T.C. programs. But freshmen and sophomore cadets were left to find somewhere else to go.
Hudnall said the nationwide cuts were attributed to the troop drawdowns in the Middle East.
“With the ending of the war in Iraq and we’re suppose to be out of Afghanistan by sometime next year according to the president,” Hudnall said. “The requirement for officers is going down. We just don’t need as many.”
The cuts also stemmed from a decrease in government spending on defense and the need for the Army to focus on programs that recruit more people in urban areas, according to military officials.
“They started looking at where officers were being commissioned from,” said Lt. Col. Robert Mason at Morehead State University. “Which region of the country was being represented or was overrepresented? And the 13 programs that initially showed up on the list, if you look most of them, were in rural areas. The army team came to a conclusion based on their analysis: The army officer corps is overrepresented in rural areas. What they were getting at was to show more urban markets that offered more opportunities for cadets and officers with science, technology, engineering and mathematics backgrounds.”
Hudnall said Eastern typically graduates about 20 R.O.T.C. students a year. In the spring, the program will commission 26 lieutenants. The programs that were scheduled to close had commissioned fewer than a dozen officers, Hudnall said.
Eastern’s program could easily support 50 additional students if the need arose, Hudnall said.
“We have plenty of space, and there’s enough housing,” Hudnall said. “The university would welcome them.”
Hudnall said he never thought Eastern’s R.O.T.C. was in jeopardy. The number of high-ranking alumni, the history and the university’s programs such as criminal justice, fire safety and homeland security were a magnet for prospective R.O.T.C. cadets, he said.