The Colorado School of Mines has the fourth longest running ROTC program in the country. Since the program’s inception in 1919, more than 2,000 Army officers have been commissioned from the school and, until 1971, all freshmen were required to take at least one year of Military Science classes. Our school’s history with the United States’ Army is as long-standing and foundational to our identity as any of our other areas of study. Today however, the organization, based near the outskirts of the campus, has become more inclusive, less well known, and far more esoteric.
Cadet Michael Harris, a senior studying Biochemical Engineering, is a peer mentor and a member of the CSM Army ROTC program. “I always knew I wanted to serve. That is just a given if you are in the Harris family,” said Harris of his choice to join the ROTC program.
“I mean who doesn’t want their school paid for?” Harris said with complete transparency. Harris, in return for having his school paid for, has agreed to serve for eight years in the United States’ Army Reserves. The reserves, he explained, allows him to hold a private-sector job right out of college and only requires him to train one weekend a month. “I already have a job lined up for when I am done and graduated,” said Harris.
When asked if he was ever apprehensive about the service requirement or the time that would be required of him during school Harris said that it never really bothered him because “the stakes [were] pretty low.” As Harris explained, the program has no service requirements attached to it until you sign a contract with the Army which is not required until junior year. To him, this was a chance “to gain that confidence in leadership.” While the program did require a lot of time, what he took away from it was immeasurably more valuable than what he put in.
“I have learned so much about myself and the world,” reflected Harris. With a program known as the Cultural Understanding & Leadership Program, or CULP, Harris was paid to travel to Sri Lanka for a month to help develop international relations and to broaden his cultural understanding and background.
“You get a nice little taste of the world in ROTC,” Harris said. When it came time to look for a job, his experiences in the program helped him gain multiple internships and a job. “In my interview with Orbital ATK, so many of my stories were based out of ROTC.”
The reason Harris thinks that his experiences in ROTC are so marketable is that they ultimately hinge around the concept of camaraderie and commitment. During his four years in the program, Harris has completed a weighted marathon, multiple multi-day Field Training Exercise (FTXs), and hundreds of hours in developmental physical training. In many ways, what Harris took away from each of these was the same — how to work with others in a team. What the Army does best, he explained, is forcing you to work together with people you barely know to accomplish tasks that seem impossible. In doing so he developed some of the closest relationships he has ever had. That network Harris has fostered and his ability to work with others is why he thinks he will be so successful in his career moving forward. This skill, he believes, is not innate, but rather has to be gained through hard-work and effort.
Harris seems to ultimately reflect on his time in the program with great admiration. ROTC, he said, “has already made me a better engineer.” He argues that it has made him a better critical thinker and that ultimately, “the program made [him] a more confident human being.” To Harris, ROTC was a chance to grow as a leader, to gain self confidence, to become a better engineer, and to travel the world.