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Freshman Whitney Bobbin gets his head shaved—a rite of passage—during NROTC orientation.

By Laura Ewald
Photos by Julie Woodford

In wartime and peacetime, strong leadership and broad knowledge are valuable traits in military elite—traits that are called upon to save lives and enhance the quality of life. Though the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps train their officers for vastly different duties in vastly different ways, the branches are united by the need for these and other valuable qualities. While many might say these are often innate characteristics in members of the armed services, GW students, faculty members, and alumni demonstrate through scholarly and practical pursuits that these skills can be fostered and sharpened in the classroom.

Learning and working in close proximity to the nation’s top military bases, GW’s “brass in training” benefit from the University’s location, resources, history, and mission. They give back to the University with unique perspectives from the field, admirable codes of conduct and work ethics, and service to the campus community and to the nation. And they are in good company. From the University’s namesake to modern-day heroes former Secretary of State Colin Powell, MBA ’71, Hon. DPS ’90, and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Ret. Adm. William Crowe, former J.B. and Maurice C. Shapiro Professor of International Affairs, GW has long been linked to the military and called to the education of its leaders. Here are a few of the numerous and varied ways in which GW and the armed services connect.

Sea Legs

GW’s chapter of the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps, which has more than 150 midshipmen members, most of them scholarship awardees, is among the 10 largest of more than 70 NROTC programs in the nation. Its mission: to train students as commissioned officers in the Naval or Marine Corps Reserve. The NROTC program is the largest single source of officers for both services. GW students training in the Army ROTC and Air Force ROTC take classes and attend training sessions at the nearby campuses of Georgetown and Howard universities, respectively. GW’s NROTC consortium includes Georgetown, Howard, Catholic University of America, and the University of Maryland, College Park.

Lt. Katrina Butler, assistant professor of naval science, and Cmdr. Fred Stein, associate professor of naval science, oversee NROTC orientation activities.

The program’s commanding officer is Capt. Peter J. Healey, who since 2003 has brought nearly three decades of service to the classroom. He also is chair of GW’s Naval Science program, which offers nearly a dozen classes primarily designed for NROTC students but which are open to civilians. (Topics such as evolution of warfare and amphibious warfare have proven interesting to students seeking degrees in history or international affairs, for example.) NROTC students take one of these courses per semester while earning degrees in the school and major of their choosing.

Preparation begins at NROTC orientation, a sink-or-swim experience that involves head shaving, uniform assignments, boot camp-like activities run by upperclassmen, and a week
at Marine Corps Base Quantico in Virginia for further immersion.

Their education is complemented by weekly drill periods, uniform inspections, marching, daily physical training, and participation in related organizations such as Semper Fi, a Marine Corps service fraternity. Upperclassmen take responsibility of running units of about 20 midshipmen, serving as “platoon commanders.” Commissioning ceremonies, the annual Navy-Marine Corps Ball, competitions with other universities, and demonstrations put on in conjunction with GW, such as Veteran’s Day celebrations, give NROTC students a deeper sense of history and tradition.

“NROTC activities help build both a support system for all the students and leadership skills for the older students. Building these levels of trust, cooperation, and dedication will later help them make the transition into their full-time service careers,” says assistant professor Lt. Katrina Butler. She says the mission of the program is to train “students first” and to instill NROTC members with the skills they need to adapt to and excel in future assignments and deployments.

“Going to school on an NROTC scholarship is similar to being a varsity athlete. Time management becomes the most important aspect of your life. As a freshman Marine Option Midshipman I would get up every day at 0530 while most students were just getting to bed,” says 2nd Lt. Joe Fry, BA ’05, coordinating officer for this year’s GW NROTC freshman orientation class. “I had the opportunity to learn from upperclassmen and take part in basic military training that has been taught for centuries. Midshipmen prepare themselves mentally and physically in order to gain an understanding of how the military works and what their role as an officer will be.”

After graduation, NROTC alumni owe the Navy or Marines four years of service, usually completed immediately after graduating. Each goes into some time of warfare specialization—service on a ship, submarine, into the Marine Corps, or aviation training.

In addition to the “culture shock” many NROTC students experience during their first few weeks at GW—taking on collegiate courses, moving away from home, and military introduction—Fry experienced a different sort of wake-up call: the 2001 terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center. Though he says he had planned on joining the military from a very young age, Fry had to quickly adapt to world events in order to prepare himself to “join the operating forces in an effort to fight and win that war.” In September, he attended Basic School in Quantico to train as a basic rifle platoon leader; from there he will be assigned to Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Fla., as a student aviator. He hopes to eventually fly in the Fleet Marine Forces.

“It’s very possible that within a month of graduating from GW, they can go straight into a contact zone,” Butler says. “In the military, you take on enormous responsibility very quickly, from servicing millions of dollars worth of aircraft and equipment to protecting peoples’ lives, and we do our best to prepare our students for that.”

While exposing NROTC students to military life and training them for future service is the primary goal of the program, the University benefits from having NROTC students on campus, Butler says.

“One aspect of the program that is becoming increasingly important is that NROTC students bring a human element to the military—when they go to their classes or attend campus events, they are the public face of the military to other students and members of the GW community,” Butler says. “They break down stereotypes just by being here.”

High Flyers

In the mid 1990s, GW won a contract to create an organizational management master’s degree program for the Air Force, which was seeking accelerated courses for their best and brightest. Those admitted are no strangers to the themes they are learning about—strategy and change management, leadership and communication, and performance and talent management; the fact that they were accepted into the pres tigious, rigorous program speaks to the high quality of their service and their potential.

Second Lt. Joe Fry, BA ’05, coordinating officer for this year’s NROTC freshman orientation class, prepares new members for a drill.

Admission is based on outstanding service performance and recommendation by superiors. Combining classroom learning with internship experience at the Pentagon, State Department, Andrews Air Force Base, and other nearby sites, the program puts outstanding individuals on the fast track to high-ranking positions. Attesting to the success of the program, one hundred percent of program graduates have been selected for the rank of major/lieutenant commander and 100 percent have been selected for command positions; 70 percent of program alumni have been selected for the rank of lieutenant commander versus 2 percent of Air Force officers overall. Ninety-two percent of program interns have been selected to attend the War College versus 20 percent of Air Force officers overall.

“These people are high flyers going in and high flyers going out. The focus of the program is to help the Air Force develop a deep network of young leadership, the ‘next wave’ of leadership for the Air Force,” says David Costanza, chair of the Department of Organizational Sciences and Communication.

Classes are taught by interdisciplinary GW instructors at the Graduate Education Center in Arlington, VA. During their first semester, students take four classes and re-adjust to full-time academic work; during the second semester, they begin the first of two six-month internship assignments.

“All of the armed services do a lot of leadership education; but it is all training that is focused on each particular branch of the service,” says David Burt, director of the Arlington center. “What the Air Force wants is for their top leaders to have a broader sense of leadership and command—this is a more universal educational approach, which teaches students about theories and practices that will work in a variety of settings. They are more universally prepared as a result.”

A broader knowledge base has helped Capt. Brian DeGennaro provide support to senior Air Force leadership through his internship at the Pentagon. It was knowledge and experience gained the hard way, as DeGennaro found it challenging to transition from Air Force life to academic life at the start of the program.

“It is humbling to be taken out of your element and put in a classroom with 20 other talented, driven people in an academic setting,” he says. “GW has expanded my thought process—I think better, I write better. The way I present myself is more polished. When I compare the papers I wrote during my first week of class to the papers I turned in during the final weeks of class, the difference is striking.”

Benefits of the program also include camaraderie between classmates and interns. While military life tends to bring service members together, the program gives students the unique chance to learn and work alongside members from different aspects of the Air Force, DeGennaro says. While he says they “check their subcultures at the door,” each is driven by the accomplishments and work ethic of the others.

“It’s very competitive, but we bring out the best in one another,” DeGennaro says. “We look out for each other. Our motto is ‘No intern left behind.’”

Freshman NROTC students learn how to pack and use their new gear through a drill.

Helping one another transition from base to classroom to internship has been an invaluable process because of the pressure interns take on with increasingly complex assignments. Capt. Eries Gibson, who provides support to the Department of Defense, says that she strives to learn not only for personal gain but to also be able to share her knowledge and experiences with her peers and subordinates once she graduates and goes back to base level.

“This is a great opportunity to explore my career field from a different perspective. I am involved on a day-to-day basis with senior leadership,” Gibson says. “One of the most valuable lessons is how to identify ways I can improve. I’ve been taught to be more aware of myself and my behavior, to actively seek out feedback from my peers and my superiors on how to improve performance. I’ll share these experiences and lessons when I go back to the base. Mentoring is an important aspect of serving in the Air Force.”

Liz Davis, program director for the Department of Organizational Sciences and Communication, says the program’s success is a result of both the department’s strengths and the contributions of the students.

“The Organizational Sciences program and its philosophy represents cutting-edge work in the field of organization and leadership—its focus and objectives are to provide new ways of dealing with organizational effectiveness based on systems thinking—we are lucky to have some of the armed forces’ best and brightest to work with in the classroom,” Davis says. She notes that graduates often stay in touch with their instructors and administrators—even when they return to bases or go on service tours—to report what they learned in the program that they are putting into practice in their careers.

Beyond Base

Beyond the need to educate future leaders, the armed services turn to GW’s resources and researchers to develop new technology and training methods (see “Harnessing Success” on page 7). They also lend expertise and firsthand experience to the University through lectures and teaching positions; for example, in 2001, GW’s Elliott School of International Affairs welcomed the University’s first Federal Executive Fellow, Cmdr. Jeffrey Harbeson. One of only 20 fellows in the nation at the time, Harbeson joined GW’s Security Policy Studies Program and Center for International Science and Technology Policy from the Navy. The program allows military officers to work on research projects and interact with the academic community at universities known for outstanding international programs. During his time at GW, Harbeson lectured on his expertise in Asian regional security.

Utilizing the University’s location and historical preservation expertise, the Army tapped GW’s Graduate Program in Museum Studies to aid in the creation of the National Museum of the United States Army. The memorandum of understanding for the project was signed in December 2003; GW develops course material and assists in the training of future staff members for the museum. Scheduled to open June 14, 2009, the 234th birthday of the Army, the museum will be located on the grounds of Fort Belvoir, Va.

MBA student Norm Sun attempts to complete 20 pull-ups as Marine Corps officers cheer him on. Officers visited campus in August to recruit students for the Marine Corps Platoon Leaders Class.

And, independent of “official” ties between the University and the armed services, military personnel are attracted to GW for the flexibility and renown of its programs and services. One example is the part-time MBA program: of the 700 students enrolled in the part-time MBA program this year, an estimated 10 percent are in the military in some capacity, says Albert Razick, administrative director of specialized degree programs in the School of Business.

Desire for a diverse set of skills is important to both military and nonmilitary students, Razick says, and some military students “want to acquire the skills necessary to advance within the military in a different capacity and others want to have transferable skills that they can use when they leave.”

They are attracted to the program, Razick says, because many of them are stationed nearby on two-to three-year assignments, and the program can be completed in that timeframe. It also is flexible, which allows them to continue full-time service. “The word is out, particularly in military circles,” Razick says, citing the skills they’ve gained in the armed services as the foundation for their success at the University.

“Our military students are extremely disciplined, motivated, and skilled in time management,” Razick says, noting that they also have “a greater sense of urgency… because they know they can be called into duty at a moment’s notice.

“Our faculty and administration understand and appreciate the sacrifices made by these students. We work closely with them to help them serve our country and to help them continue to pursue their degrees.”