Lurking beneath the radar for the past two decades at Franciscan University of Steubenville, the Reserve Officer Training Corps program on campus offers a unique, yet largely unrecognized, experience for men and women seeking to become officers in the United States Army.
Not only does the program offer valuable scholarships to deserving students, but it also allows them to train and present themselves as viable candidates for selection as officers in the Army after graduation.
Embedded in the Catholic curriculum of Franciscan University, this program provides an ideal environment to form people of faith who want to serve in one of the United States’ most esteemed organizations, said Luke Orsay, company commander for the ROTC platoons of Franciscan, Robert Morris and LaRoche universities and a senior economics major at Franciscan.
“This gives Franciscan the opportunity to shape the future of the armed forces by bringing Catholic leaders in there,” said Orsay.
ROTC is one of three ways the Army chooses officers.
“Being an officer hearkens back to the knighthood, way back in the middle ages,” said Orsay. “By tradition they are well educated. So you need to have a bachelor’s degree in order to be an officer.”
To be part of ROTC, students must take normal classes, with the addition of physical training, a military science course and a practicum lab.
In order to better merit leadership positions after graduation, cadets must maintain good grades to score highly in the Order of Merit List, a nationwide points system that ranks all cadets in the nation.
“You are graded throughout everything, it’s like any other class,” said Orsay. “We receive points for everything that we do. … Depending on what number of points you get, that’s how much stock they will put into giving you the job that you want.”
“If you have a much higher number of points, you’re in better shape, you’re a better leader.”
Cadets at Franciscan typically attend three days of physical training each week, with a practicum once a month. Cadets ordinarily travel to Robert Morris University for physical training and for labs twice a week. However, due to COVID-19, this has been suspended for the fall 2020 semester.
ROTC includes people who are already soldiers in the Army with contracts and who want to train to be officers in addition to those who want to try to win a contract. A contract is a commitment to remain with the Army until the cadets graduate and become officers.
Those who are not already soldiers “come in without a contract, they win the contract and become a soldier,” Orsay said. “Then after their bachelor’s degree, they become an officer.”
With a contract can come a substantial scholarship, which benefits both the student and the university. This scholarship is what allowed Orsay to attend college, since he said that otherwise he would not have been able to afford it. Additionally, the scholarships funded by the Army provide money that the university doesn’t have to pay.
“It’s a tremendous asset to (Franciscan),” said Orsay. “It’s tax-free money.”
However, ROTC at Franciscan continues to remain outside the spotlight of interest at the university, said Orsay. It is uncertain that the program will remain for as much as another decade as resources to support ROTC continue to be scarce.
“The program has always kind of been under the radar for most of its existence,” Orsay said. “It’s kind of a shame because ordinarily in ROTC programs … there’s some mutuality to it. The program helps out the Army, (which) helps out the school by giving them money.”
Orsay predicts that the program could be terminated in the next five to 10 years.
“Unless Franciscan does something drastic, it just won’t last,” said Orsay.
Orsay said that he could have chosen to attend a military institute but instead chose Franciscan because he made the decision that fostering his faith was more important.
“I concluded it is much more important to be a … good human being in order to be a good officer than it is to be skilled in the way of military tactics or anything like that. And I found that to be absolutely true,” he said.
Because Orsay wants others to be able to have the same experience that he did, he hopes that Franciscan realizes the opportunity it has for fostering missionary work in one of the biggest organizations in the United States.
“I hope and pray, every single day, that Franciscan realizes what a tremendous opportunity this is to make disciples within the United States military and that they will … help out with ROTC,” he said.