The Story of the Reserve Officer Training Corps at The University of Akron
The Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps at The University of Akron had its origins in the establishment of the Students’ Army Training Corps, which was activated at the then Municipal University of Akron on October 1, 1918. After the Armistice ending the Great War and the worldwide flu pandemic, the S.A.T.C. was dissolved on campus. Immediately in December 1918 through the efforts of prominent local businessmen and Dr. Parke Kolbe, the President of the University, the Board of Trustees agreed to apply to the War Department to establish a unit of the new Reserve Officer Training Corps. Establishment of the unit was approved, and at their meeting in January,1919, the Board approved Resolution 11, agreeing to the mandates and responsibilities set by the War Department in order to maintain an ROTC program.
Army ROTC was at first proposed as a voluntary course. Thanks to the persuasive efforts of Dr. Kolbe, ROTC became compulsory for all male freshman and sophomore years beginning that fall. The earliest Professor of Military Science and Tactics (PMS), Captain Adolph Unger, was sent to Akron in March, 1919.
Captain Glen Anderson, the second PMS, was responsible for the establishment of a strong, effective ROTC program. The Army model of the four year class curriculum and a set of physical fitness standards was developed under him. Training in the early years consisted of field fortifications, hippology, field sanitation, map reading, and Infantry tactics. He also obtained all the equipment found in an infantry battalion--to include Stokes mortars, one-inch Brown machine guns, Springfield rifles and bayonets. The first cadets attended summer camp at Fort Knox in 1923. On June 6, 1922, Cadet Major Williard B Melvin and Cadet Captain Conrad Van Hyning were the first graduates to receive a commission as 2nd lieutenants. At that time, most new officers attended 6 months of full time training and then served part-time in the Army Reserve.
The program became part of the social fabric of campus life, fulfilling numerous social duties on campus, such as providing the honor guard for the May Queen on Tree Day. The first military ball was held November 19, 1921, and it remains a tradition to this day. Early on two student organizations were established. In 1932 students began participating in the Pershing Rifles, a military-oriented fraternal organization dedicated to military drill. The Scabbard and Blade’s purpose was to promote five star qualities: Honor, Leadership, Professionalism, Officership, and Unity. Today’s students participate two organizations. Ranger Company seeks to develop individual application of the principles of leadership through the execution of Warrior Tasks. Summit Rifles’ task is to bolster morale, and pride in citizenship and service. They provide color guard services at various University sporting events, on Veterans’ Day and at other community events throughout the year.
During the Second World War with most young men off fighting around the world, ROTC numbers dropped, however, it was during this period when an aviation ROTC unit was added. It grew a substantial following over the years and even published its own newspaper, The Kiwi. The Air Force established a separate ROTC Detachment at The University of Akron in 1947. Air Force ROTC remained a presence on campus until June, 2005, when it was integrated in the Kent State University Air Force ROTC program. The University of Akron honors a cross-town agreement where students pursuing a degree at Akron can choose to participate in Air Force ROTC at KSU.
After World War II and into the 1950’s, enrollment at the University grew quickly. Young men were home from war and seeking a career. Many used their GI Bill to fund an education. ROTC, still compulsory at the time, was a very large prominent presence on campus. At this point in time at its halfway mark, it was apparent that not much had changed. Students attended basic and advanced camp in the summer, usually at Fort Knox, the four year curriculum continued to emphasize the development of high standards in leadership skills, character, and physical fitness was still a mandate, awards were handed out in the spring, the military ball was held each year, and students were commissioned at graduation twice a year. In 1955 the program commissioned its 1,000th graduate. This model was a prime example of the adage ‘if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.’ A century later, this model continues as the framework for the program that trains world class leaders on the campus today.
In its early days, female students held supportive roles. Nationwide dozens of women’s groups participated in auxiliary groups known as ROTC Sponsors. The origin of these groups was the female students’ desire to be more a part of the pomp and circumstance of the drills and reviews and to have a role in the social activities surrounding the program.
Women’s participation as cadets did not start until the fall of 1970. Anne Marie Connell was the first women commissioned through ROTC in 1977. The late 1970's brought several "firsts" to the cadet battalion, including: the first female to command the cadet battalion in Akron, the first female to receive a Regular Army appointment, the first commissioned female to graduate from the Nursing College, and the first female to become Airborne and Air Assault qualified. Today female cadets participate from across all majors and make up 41% of student participation in the ROTC program.
Beginning in 1985, ROTC students were required to wear uniforms to class. In 1986, the University approved the study of Military Science as an academic minor. In the school year 1996/97, The University of Akron was selected as a Partnership in Nursing Education (PNE) School by the Army and Cadet Command. This increased the incentives and opportunities for the cadet battalion and the College of Nursing.
Over the years, the program has at times come under serious scrutiny and debate. The first time was in the 1930’s when a local organization known was the League Against Compulsory Military Training, aided by the Akron Ministerial Association spoke out against ROTC and its instructors, as being ‘tools of the DuPonts and merchants of death.” Funding for this anti-ROTC league came from the local left-wing organizations and the Communist Party of the United States. Abolishment of compulsory ROTC came up for vote in the faculty council and was defeated, with only one affirmative vote coming from the faculty. The next serious examination came in 1972, during the controversies surrounding the Viet Nam War. After much debate, the institution once again stood firm and the program continued. It was then that it was no longer compulsory for incoming students.
University of Akron ROTC students complete the degree of their choice while receiving the Army’s recognized leadership training. Generous ROTC scholarship packages are an attractive incentive. Students sign contracts to commit to complete their degree and training and upon graduation, to serve as officers. Students can choose to go into Active Duty, or they may pursue a civilian career while serving in the Army Reserve or National Guard. For this they receive a monthly stipend and funding that applies to tuition, fees, room and board, and books. Over the past 15 years, The University of Akron has supplemented funding from the US Army with just over $4 million in scholarship assistance. The by-line of today’s ROTC program is that young people receive a Strong Start to a career—with an essentially debt free education and their first meaningful employment.
Today's Cadets of the 42nd Ohio Volunteer Battalion walk in the footsteps of cadets from a century ago. They become exceptional leaders in the United States Army and in American society.