Early to serve: GW houses fifth largest NROTC in nation

It’s 0700 hours on a Friday morning and freshman Chris Brinlee has already been up for an hour and a half doing physical training. His weekly drill session followed by an hour-long lecture is about to begin.

Brinlee is a freshman scholarship recipient in GW’s Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps. A high school cheerleader, member of the National Honors Society and a student interested in journalism, Brinlee is like most college students – except he plans to devote his life to serving in the U.S. armed forces.

“My senior year I was involved full-throttle,” said Brinlee, from Mena, Ariz.

Then he experienced what NROTC organizers call “shock therapy” and an introduction to military life.

“It is not boot camp,” said Fred Stein, executive officer of GW’s NROTC program of the six-day orientation that takes place at the Marine Corps base in Quantico, Va. “It’s a little mayhem, a little yelling and screaming, but overall it’s a bonding experience for incoming freshmen.”

Brinlee said the orientation was nothing short of worthwhile.

“As demanding as it was, I wouldn’t change my experience for anything,” Brinlee said about the orientation.

Learning how to become leaders in the Navy or the Marine Corps is the ultimate goal of the NROTC program. Established in 1926, the program prepares young men and women to pursue careers as officers in the Navy Reserve or Marine Corps Reserve. Nationwide, it is the largest source of officers for both institutions, according to GW’s NROTC Web site.

“People come into the program from all walks of life and all backgrounds, and we aim to instill in them a respect for authority,” Stein said. “As an end result, we hope that we give them an understanding of what the military is about.”

GW boasts the fifth-largest NROTC program in the country, consisting of about 150 undergraduate students. Apart from GW, additional members are drawn from Catholic, Howard and Georgetown Universities and the University of Maryland, none of which have NROTC programs of their own.

About 80 percent of these members pursue the Navy option of the NROTC program, which allows the Navy to commission graduates as ensigns or officers. The remaining 20 percent select the Marine Corps option and are typically commissioned as second lieutenants upon graduation.

“The physical fitness portion of the Marine program is substantially more stringent,” Stein said.

“The semi-annual physical fitness tests are tougher, and they have more field exercises,” Stein said. “They go to the Marine Corps base in Quantico for weekends twice a semester.”

Though Navy students have less-demanding physical requirements, they instead have more demanding academic responsibilities. Required courses include calculus and physics, among others.

Regardless of whether students pursue the Marine Corps or Navy option, many of those enrolled in NROTC at GW are offered large scholarships for their commitment.

“The most obvious benefit to the midshipmen (NROTC students) is financial,” wrote Captain Brian Gawne, commanding officer of GW’s NROTC program, in an e-mail last week.

Gawne said 75 percent of students in the University’s battalion have full-tuition scholarships, a monthly living stipend and a book stipend.

The summer following an NROTC participant’s first year, battalion members spend their summers on naval cruises. These assignments give the midshipmen hands-on experience in the Navy, and frequently allow students to visit foreign countries.

Sophomore Chris Bourque said his first cruise, which departed from San Diego, was the most amazing time of his life. “When else will I get to fly 737s, drive a $2 billion warship and shoot machine guns?” Bourque said.

Students in any NROTC program are required to complete four years of service with their chosen military branch in their chosen field after graduation.

Stein said last summer some seniors in GW’s NROTC program traveled to Malaysia and Thailand.

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