On days when they wear their battle dress uniforms, or BDUs, Matthew Perry and Brittany Canary operate by a different set of rules.
They’re not allowed to be seen walking with their cellphones out, eating and drinking are made much more difficult and the uniforms themselves must be kept in pristine condition. It seems like a lot to worry about, but Perry and Canary don’t seem to mind it at all.
“Even though we’re not commissioned yet, we’re wearing the same uniform that people died for. We respect the same traditions, rules and regulations that what we call ‘real army’ has for the uniform. It takes discipline, and a lot of the things we do are about developing discipline,” Perry said.
Discipline isn’t the only thing members will get out of the ROTC. Programs can be found in all four branches of the U.S. military, but EKU specifically offers an Army ROTC program. Members train to become officers in the U.S. Army. Through a series of selections, they progress through the program while also learning life skills. All of that happens concurrently with any other college activities in which the student may be involved.
“Trainees come in, contract and prepare themselves for an officer’s position in the U.S. Army. You’ll commission as a second lieutenant. You learn tactical and professional leadership skills,” Perry said. “The great thing about ROTC is that it lets you train to become an officer while retaining the traditional college experience. You still have all your classes, fraternities or even a side job. You get to live your civilian life while readying to be an Army officer.”
“That’s why we say that if you’re going to college, you might as well do ROTC. It only takes four years, and you get more school benefits too,” Canary said, chiming in.
Vastly different circumstances have led Perry and Canary to where they are in the program. Perry, a 21-year-old senior and native of Bagdad, Kentucky, comes from a military family. Like his father and grandfather before him, Perry has wanted to be in the military for about as long as he can remember.
“I come from a military family. So I knew I always wanted to be an officer in the Army, like my father. I did JROTC in high school. It’s not officially contracted through the Army, but it’s a way to develop yourself as a citizen leader. From there I’ve just continued on through college. Never looked back,” he said.
Canary’s history and motivation is a bit different. The 20-year-old sophomore noted that, unlike Perry, she is the first of her close family to have joined the military.
“Mine is quite different. I was the first in my family to join the military. I didn’t do ROTC, I didn’t know anything about the Army. I enlisted when I was 18, went to basic training and Advanced Individual Training. Afterward I got to college, and my recruiter told me about ROTC and how you could become on officer through it. I kept looking into it, and eventually decided to do it,” Canary said.
Physical training, or “PT”, is a big part of daily life for students in ROTC. It’s a brutal exercise regimen undertaken in the program. It’s also notably the biggest challenge for new recruits.
“PT is the biggest commitment for us. You got to be willing to get up at 5:30 in the morning and workout, sometimes up to 5 times a week. It’s a big commitment and it’s also non-negotiable,” Perry said.
While the rigors of ROTC life may seem daunting, they can also be rewarding. Be it hitting the ground running when starting in the much hallowed “real army” or getting to fire the cannon during home sporting events, there’s something for everyone. Even for those with no intention of joining the military further down the road.
“I understand that not everyone wants to be in the military, but even from a non-military aspect, to go out there and get that discipline and get that level of self-respect, I couldn’t recommend it enough,” Perry said. “So even if you don’t want to join the military, come try it for a year. Not only will it develop you physically and as a leader, but in every other aspect of your life.”