Imagine, or recall, being a 22-year-old Army ROTC Cadet about to head into your last year of college and being asked to make a critical decision about what you want to officially do for your military career. Do you want to go Active Duty, National Guard, or Army Reserve? Which branch do you want – Infantry, Armor, Finance, Chemical, or…?
Until this point in your career, you were just focused on surviving – making your way through PT, classes, labs, and field training exercises. Now you are asked to make tough decisions with ramifications you can’t fully understand. To complicate things, you may have a new set of Active Duty cadre who aren’t as familiar with the Reserve accessions process.
Accessions is when Cadets are assigned a component, branch, and duty station. Their assignments are based on their academic performance, leadership evaluations, extracurricular involvement, physical fitness, personal preferences and “needs of the Army”.
This was my story. I received my commission as a field artillery officer from the Gateway Battalion Army ROTC program in St. Louis, and I had absolutely no idea what the differences were between the various components, or what being a field artillery officer entailed. Truthfully, I put far less thought into this important life decision than I should have. If a Cadet finds themselves in the same situation today, where do they turn for help?
Enter the Adjunct Faculty of the 4-414 and 4-413 SROTC Battalions, supported by the newly formed “Career Advocacy Team” led by Maj. Michael Dill from 1st Brigade, 104th Training Division. Maj. Dill leads a three person team that also includes Maj. Michael Nguyen from the 4-413th SROTC Battalion (which covers schools in the eastern half of the country), and myself from the 4-414th SROTC Support Battalion (covering all schools in the western half of the country).
Our job is threefold:
- Provide relevant, up-to-date tools to assist with educating Cadets and faculty about the ROTC accessions process for the Reserve component Soldiers
- Consistently and expertly train Assistant Professors of Military Science, Professors of Military Science, and Cadets throughout the country on the difference between the components and the unique accessions process for each and
- Make connections and enable well-trained ROTC instructors to create strong relationships with Cadets to guide them through the accessions process.
Through a robust connection with the Army Reserve G1 Accessions Team, National Guard Officer Strength Managers from each state, and the Active Duty cadre in the ROTC battalions, we augment the resources available to Cadets and advocate on their behalf when necessary.
Mentorship is another key contribution of the Career Advocacy Team. Studies show that while military mentorship programs fail when made mandatory, they thrive when facilitated with education and tools that enable more-experienced leaders to invest in less-experienced leaders. Given the fact that the 4-413th and 4-414th SROTC battalions have positions in every state and most large cities, our penetration into ROTC programs is impressive and allows us to reach a large percentage of the country’s Cadets. Bottom line, if there is a Cadet anywhere in the country needing access to an experienced Officer from a certain branch, there is a certainty that if the TPU ROTC instructor in their unit isn’t able to help them make that connection, the Career Advocacy Team will be able to assist.
Wins are happening for this group every day, and here are three recent examples. The first story happened at Wheaton College in the fall of 2019 and is a great example of the mentorship opportunities that Career Advocates have the potential to create. A Cadet found out that he was selected for a branch he didn’t really want to serve in – one he hadn’t selected anywhere near the top of his preference list. He was demoralized. I was able to connect this Cadet with Maj. Ben Pankow, a peer of mine from the 4-414th. Back in 2008, Maj. Pankow was assigned to that same branch that was at the bottom of his preference list. He managed to turn it into an incredibly successful career culminating in his leadership of a Special Forces ODA team in Africa. He and the demoralized Cadet hit it off immediately. Maj. Pankow was able to open the Cadet’s eyes to the opportunities he had ahead of him, and they remain in touch nearly a year later.
The second story happened just recently. I was contacted by a fellow Assistant Professor of Military Science (APMS) in Kansas who was at an FTX with his Cadets. This Cadet had some advanced level questions about Army Reserve accessions. With M4’s firing in the background, I was able to walk the Cadet through the answers to his questions and point him in the right direction. The APMS was able to follow through at a local level to ensure the Cadet completed the tasks. This sort of thing is happening every day throughout the 4-414th and 4-413th.
The third story comes courtesy of the Coronavirus. When in-person Cadet Summer Training was shut down for the summer of 2020, so was the opportunity for Cadets to interact with Reserve officers during the camp’s annual Branch Orientation Day. To make up for this, Cadet Command hosted three “Virtual Branch Orientation” chat room sessions over the course of a week. The Career Advocacy Team sent word out and 19 Reserve (TPU) junior officers volunteered to participate in the sessions and answer questions for Cadets. During those sessions, a total of 230 Cadets interacted with those 19 officers to receive key information about charting their Army careers.
The Career Advocacy Team is gaining momentum. We exist to serve that Cadet in Los Angeles, or Florida, or the one in Missouri—the one who is unsure about the right path to take and may not have their heart set on going Active Duty. If we do our job right, that Cadet should have a clear understanding moving forward of what choices they have, what the differences are between the components, and how to find a slot for the branch they want in a unit of their choice. We certainly have our work cut out for us, but the work is extremely rewarding. We look forward to carrying this into the future.