Monday, June 20, 2011

Suggestions for Columbia ROTC

** Preface: I'll update this page if/when I can think of more. Make sure to open and read the links. My suggestions assume there is in place a baseline with an official ROTC presence located on campus and a comprehensive recruiting strategy for sophisticated public relations, tailored outreach, interaction with the campus community, and ROTC student retention. An independent campus vehicle controlled by ROTC students, such as Hamilton Society, is likely necessary to implement some of my suggestions. Organized alumni involvement is certainly necessary. **

Here are my suggestions for the designers and builders of Columbia ROTC (latest addition 19OCT11):

Make a resilient tribe.

Create a distinguished Columbia military brand. I recommend the brand be based on a distinctive preparation of Columbia ROTC students for nation building, statesmanship, and military leadership in the forward-thinking multi-talented tradition of alumnus Alexander Hamilton. Conscientiously orient CU ROTC students to military and civil leadership. Columbia ROTC should be viewed as innovative, even entrepeneurial, and creatively leveraging the resources of a large world-class university and a world capital city. Columbia ROTC graduates should understand war and the military in the context of the political (and everything else) and strategic, adaptive use of the military as a means to political ends. __ Read this Grantland article that discusses how the University of Oregon teamed with Nike to build its football program into a national leader, despite the absence of the assets relied upon by the traditionally top college football programs. Nike and the Oregon Ducks instead used modern branding and marketing techniques within the modern attention economy to construct a championship infrastructure and attract top 18-year-old football prospects (analogous to top 18-year-old officer prospects) to what had been an obscure, perenially losing program (analogous to ROTC at Columbia since the Vietnam War). That said, while Columbia ROTC is effectively a new program with clean-slate creative opportunities, the university also owns a proud military tradition reaching back to the nation's founding. The new Columbia ROTC should be both characterized by heritage and built up with innovation.

Beware of dead-end compromises that stunt the long-term growth of the program. Take heed of cautionary tales of ROTC programs that have been handicapped at peer schools, such as Dartmouth Army ROTC and Princeton Army ROTC, due to short-sighted decisions that weakened them at the foundation. Visionary leadership, careful guardianship, and zealous advocacy of Columbia ROTC are absolutely critical at the foundational beginning and should be constant over the life of the program (which should be equal to the life of the university).

Enable independent ROTC student experimentation. Within the available space allowed by formal ROTC and school commitments, ROTC on campus should enable a user-driven creative laboratory space for Columbia ROTC students. Students should control and shape that space with minimum uninvited interference: think Ender Wiggins's launchie practices and Bean's special-squad experimentation in Ender's Game. The mandated military training for CU ROTC students, and even post-ROTC military training for alumni, may fall short of teaching all the skills and perspectives that Columbians can foresee as possibly useful for the current or next generation of military leaders. CU ROTC students can regularly brainstorm with professors, milvet classmates, serving alumni, and grad-student officers about what they should innovate, teach themselves, and pull from greater CUMilComm, university, and city resources, to augment their academics and formal military training.

Keep track of important developments, influential military thinkers, and the military's own leading vision and goals, and orient Columbia ROTC accordingly. For example, see CNAS's Keeping the Edge: Revitalizing America's Military Officers Corps, AEI's UNDERSERVED A Case Study of ROTC in New York City, and Navy's A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower.

Contemplate the essence of military leadership. Columbia ROTC students should utilize Columbia's intellectual setting to glean the spirit and aesthetic of military service and officership. I don't mean a rote adoption of military ways or parroting an "Army Strong", "Navy: A Global Force for Good", "The Few, the Proud, the Marines", or "Aim High" recruiting pitch. Rather, I mean CU ROTC students should explore the deeper meaning of military leadership, similar to how other emerging practitioners delve into the deeper meaning of academia, performing arts, medicine, or the law. Service academies like West Point formally institutionalize - and heavy-handedly indoctrinate - their heritage education. In contrast, CU ROTC students have the freedom and opportunity to learn for themselves, informally, what it means to lead soldiers in the selfless (often frustrating, and at times misunderstood, thankless, and sacrificial) service of the American people and nation. They will be able to consult with milvet classmates, retired and serving military alumni, and professors with insight on the subject. As comparison, I based my design of the original MilVets logo in part on the notion of recent veterans reflecting at Columbia on the essential things from our military experiences that we would keep for our post-military lives. Beyond producing young officers who 'get it', benefits include distinguishing CU ROTC from other ROTC programs in a way that is distinct to Columbia, a better meshing of CU ROTC with Columbia's intellectual character, and shrinking the civil-military gap of social-cultural differences by building an understanding based on essential values.

Train with Parkour. The pragmatic reason is that the military ought to adopt Parkour given that we can expect future operations will continue to require maneuver in urban and other difficult built-up terrain. (Go on Youtube and check out the videos of heavily laden soldiers laboring through dense Iraqi cities and fortified compounds in the Afghan mountains that amount to cruel obstacle courses.) The training should make sense to future military leaders, be mentally and physically satisfying, and can be a shared bonding experience for all Columbia military students, especially those attending off-campus programs. Further, since it wouldn't be strictly ROTC training, the activity can also serve as gateway exposure for vigorous general-body Columbia students who may be good candidates for ROTC. NYC has a Parkour club. Columbia also has its own Parkour club (Columbia University Parkour), which was started in Fall 2010: see Spec article, Facebook page, Google group page.

Miscellaneous: Study how Peace Corps and Teach for America recruit. Enlist Columbia professors and deans who are on record supporting civics/moral/ethical education at Columbia with ROTC and work with them on concrete ideas for realizing their vision.

In general, push the Columbia ROTC experience to be more challenging and stimulating for Columbia ROTC students in sensible intelligent ways. Establish a program of special quality that can inspire respect for ROTC on campus, push CU ROTC students to learn more, and earn a better official status (e.g., academic credit) and other benefits (e.g., funding, network resources). Build up value-added ROTC+ features around the campus program. Trust that the innate quality of Columbia students will rise to the challenge, and at the same time, a reasonably challenging and stimulating program with an effective brand will attract more Columbia students to ROTC. I want student demand (ROTC applications and student interest in a military career) eventually to overwhelm the ROTC supply (available CU ROTC slots), which should further heighten student interest in ROTC and bolster the program's reputation (exclusive club effect), and pressure the military and university to increase the supply (added slots, additional ROTC programs on campus, improved access to off-campus officer programs) to meet student demand. I want the military to come to view Columbia as an active and supportive community partner, a rich vein of entrepeneurial highest-quality officer prospects, and a powerful university investing diverse resources into ROTC as unique added values.


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