By Collin Atwood
The choices that young adults have to make after graduating high school can be intimidating. Whether it’s stepping right into a full-time job, going to a four-year college or enlisting in a branch of the military, their adult life is about to start. They must choose a path, and it’s rare that someone is able to follow two at the same time.
Lise-Anne Orlich, a junior at Springfield College studying sports biology, chose one of those unlikely paths by joining the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) program. The ROTC is a program that allows students to enroll in college and take college courses while training to be an officer in a branch of the military.
In 2019 Orlich was one of those students getting ready to graduate. She was wrestling with the choice of going to a traditional four-year college or enrolling in the United States Military Academy. It was during her decision process that she found out about the ROTC program, but she wanted to put all of her attention and focus on one lifestyle.
“I wanted the experience of either a full college experience or full military-college experience. I didn’t really want the in between,” Orlich said.
The interest in serving in the Army is in her blood. Multiple of Orlich’s family members have served in the Army and she has a cousin who is currently stationed in Alaska.
“I’ve always wanted to serve. [It’s a] big thing in my family,” Orlich said.
Originally, Orlich decided to take the traditional college route and put her interest in serving in the Army aside. She wanted to try attending Springfield College as just a student to see if college was something she would enjoy.
Even though most of her college time has been tainted by COVID-19, Orlich loved her first two years on Alden Street and decided it might be time to give the Army another look.
“I wound up loving school and made some great friends here at Springfield, so I thought that it would be a great idea for me to try both.”
Orlich decided to reach out to her advisor at the tail end of her sophomore year about joining the ROTC program at Springfield. Due to the small size of this program at Springfield, her advisor wasn’t too familiar with the program and how it worked.
The ROTC program at Springfield currently has 10 cadets and no on-campus professors. The students who attend Springfield College have to take their ROTC courses at Western New England University or the University of Massachusetts.
“My advisor didn’t know much about it so it was kind of me, on my own, reaching out to people and asking a lot of questions,” Orlich explained.
It’s not uncommon for people to be unfamiliar with the ROTC program. It’s offered at 1,700 colleges and universities in America which is less than 33% of higher-education establishments. The idea of having students attend a traditional college and train for the military at the same time was introduced in 1819, but the program we know today came in 1916.
The following semester after Orlich decided she wanted to be in the ROTC program, she was sent to Fort Knox to get up to speed with the other cadets who were already familiar with the program. She wasn’t expecting an intense experience, but that’s exactly what she got.
“It was full, just straight military experience,” Orlich said. She spent 32 days going through a condensed boot camp. “Day four came and drill sergeants showed up and that’s when you got whipped into shape,” she added.
That 32 day experience going through intense military training was just the beginning of her journey in the ROTC program. Now that she is a full-time college student and cadet in the program, her days are a lot more filled than they used to be.
By the time her 9 a.m. class starts, Orlich has already been through a training session that she wakes up at 5 a.m. for. She then goes through a day of classes and goes straight into her homework.
She also takes four military credits on top of her classes that go toward her sports biology major. “I’m taking a total of 18 credits right now. It’s definitely a lot on my plate,” Orlich said.
Just like your typical science class at Springfield College, Orlich’s military courses come with a lab that she does a few weekends throughout the month. The cadets take what they have learned in the class and apply it in a real-life scenario.
Instead of doing it in the classroom or laboratory, they go to their field in Montague, Mass. to put their skills to the test. After learning about navigating the land, the weekend lab would involve the cadets looking at a map and actually learning the lay of the land.
The ROTC program gives the cadets a lot of field experience during their time in college so they can be prepared for what comes after graduating. This upcoming summer Orlich will be participating in the ROTC Cadet Summer Training (CST).
“It helps with contracting and how we’re going to branch,” Orlich said. During the fall semester there was a Field Training Exercise that prepares cadets for CST. Cadets stayed in the woods for two nights and learned what the CST entails.
Unfortunately for Orlich, she wasn’t able to participate in the exercise due to an injury she received playing on Springfield College’s women’s rugby team.
She joined the team her first year on campus, but due to the togavirus, also known as Triple E, and COVID-19, her first two seasons were shortened. Her junior year marked the first full season she would partake in. That was until she was injured in the second game of the season against Tufts.
Orlich was involved in a collision during the game, but did not realize the severity of the injury until the game had ended.
“When you play rugby your adrenaline just rushes…you kind of get hurt and get back up,” Orlich said. Following the game she went to the athletic trainer and then realized she had dislocated a rib. “I’m currently sitting with a messed up rib,” she added.
Orlich is hoping that her displaced rib will heal by the time she returns from the holiday break. That way she’ll be able to participate in training and prepare for the Cadet Summer Training.
Junior year is the most intense year for cadets in the program. It’s the year that they have to decide if they want to commit to being an officer after graduation.
“It’s all optional for those first two years. Anybody can take the program and walk away at any time if they choose to,” said Minuteman Battalion Army ROTC Enrollment Officer, Travis Wright.
Before the semester ends, Orlich needs to sign a contract that obligates her to serve in the military after graduating.
“If a student completes the ROTC program and commissions as a Second Lieutenant they have an obligation to serve eight years as an officer,” Wright explained. A cadet can decide whether they want to be a reserve for eight years or jump right into active duty. After four years on active duty you can finish the rest of your time as a reserve.
Upon graduation Orlich is planning to go into active duty in either the infantry or field artillery branch. “There’s a lot of options with the Army,” Orlich said. She also has an interest in using her degree to work at a Veterans hospital and help veterans get healthy again.
“I might step down and go reserves because then I can use my sports bio degree,” Orlich said. If she pursues that route she would enroll in a graduate school and earn her masters in physical therapy.
“I think it would be cool to work in vet hospitals and watch vets get back to where they were,” she added.
Orlich and many others across the country are able to live the best of both worlds through the ROTC program. It’s a great place to start if you’re not sure what route to take after high school. For more information about ROTC at Springfield College, visit https://springfield.edu/rotc.
Photo Courtesy LA Orlich