“They know the war on terrorism won’t go away, even when we finish in Afghanistan.” – Lt. Col. James M. Zuba
A four-by-two-foot map of Asia is tacked to a wall of Army Lt. Col. James M. Zuba’s office. Forty-five blue dots designate locations in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia where his infantry unit spent 36 months from 1992 to 1995 searching for U.S. MIAs and POWs.
Earlier, he commanded rifle companies for seven months in Desert Shield/Desert Storm. Now he is now completing his 18th year in the Army, and his first as professor and chair of military science at Washington State University. He and his six-man cadre are preparing 150 Army ROTC cadets to become leaders.
In January 2002 the bespectacled lieutenant colonel talked about the 18 WSU cadets scheduled to be commissioned as second lieutenants in May. Their lives will change, he said, just as his had. Even before the events of September 11, he saw them mature. They are willing to listen, and they can grasp concepts without needing assignments spelled out in detail. They are learning to “adapt, improvise, and overcome.”
“Their lives may depend on it,” Zuba said. “They know the war on terrorism won’t go away, even when we finish in Afghanistan.”
Victoria Renfro, a senior in political science and philosophy, is WSU battalion commander. Military intelligence is her first choice of assignments. She wants the Army to send her to law school. Some day she’d like to work in the Judge Advocate General Corps.
“This is the best opportunity for me to see and know what’s out there in the world,” she says of her options.
Travis Brashers is a fourth-year cadet with close-cropped hair. His mother, Katherine Lyon Brashers (’78 Hist.), was one of the first women to receive a commission through Army ROTC at WSU.
“You grow up real fast in the military. You have millions of dollars worth of equipment you are responsible for,” says the 2002 graduate in finance.
Interest in Army ROTC peaked nationally in 1967 with more than 177,400 cadets enrolled in 413 programs. By 2000, enrollment had declined to 28,740 in 269 programs.
“Enlistments [in the military] always seem to go up during war time,” Zuba says. “There is a propensity to serve [the country].” He cites a 2001 Gallup poll that ranked the military as the no. 1 organization in the United States in terms of values and professionalism.
Whether that will translate into increased numbers in ROTC remains to be seen. All branches of ROTC now offer attractive financial incentives. A program introduced in fall 2000 provides benefits to Army and Air National Guard members attending WSU, including those taking courses available via the University’s Extended Degree Program.
Nationally, Army ROTC’s mission is to commission 3,500 second lieutenants this year. Based on enrollment, WSU is on track to make its quota of 20 to 22 new officers in May 2003. Zuba expects WSU to “over produce” in 2004 and 2005 with 25 to 30 officers the first year, and more than 30 thereafter. Attaining those goals depends to a great extent on the type of students WSU recruits.
“We’ve always had intelligent students,” says Zuba, pointing to the 3.30 gpa achieved by fourth-year cadets fall semester. He and the cadre visit with faculty and students to spread the word about ROTC benefits, opportunities, and even military careers. Professors in political science, criminal justice, nursing, sociology, English, and biology have invited cadre into their classes. In fact, Capt. Dan Duncan accepted a challenge to give a “persuasive” presentation in a speech class.
In 2001, WSU Army ROTC was ranked 131st nationally, based on enrollment, academic achievements, and programs. Last year it ranked 231st. Zuba’s goal is to be in the top 75 by 2003, and in the elite 25 the following year.
Can it be done? “You bet,” he says without hesitation.