The Army ROTC program at Georgia Regents University may be marked for closure, but a group of local supporters won’t let it go down without a fight.
U.S. Rep. John Barrow and a dozen other members of Congress representing the 13 ROTC programs being cut across the country sent a letter to Army Secretary John McHugh on Oct. 8 asking him to reconsider.
The letter also demands an explanation for how the Army selected the programs out of 273 across the nation and questions whether some units were previously instructed to reduce the number of cadets commissioned into the military.
“We’ve got to get to the bottom of this and find out what the facts are,” Barrow said in a phone interview Friday. “And the best performing ROTC in the country is not one of the 13 that should be removed.”
Earlier this month the Army announced it would eliminate the ROTC program at GRU and 12 other colleges by 2015, leaving both potential and current students scrambling for plan B. The deadline gives GRU cadets in their last two years time to graduate, but GRU freshmen, sophomores and the high school students who intended to enroll must now look outside of Augusta.
According to Army Cadet Command spokesman Mike Johnson, the Army analyzed the 273 ROTC programs nationwide and selected to close the 13 that were graduating 15 or fewer cadets per year.
With Augusta’s military presence and the GRU ROTC named best in the nation last year, Barrow, whose 12th District covers Augusta, said the decision doesn’t make sense. And after a former GRU ROTC recruiter stated to The Augusta Chronicle this month that his unit was instructed to reduce the number of cadets commissioned into the Army in recent years, Barrow said he wants to ensure these eliminations for underperformance were not by design.
Charles Garner, whose grandson is a senior in Evans High School’s JROTC, said he is devastated by the loss and has called Army contacts in Washington, local ROTC leaders and Barrow’s staff to brainstorm ways to save the program.
“I will not accept it, not at the moment,” Garner said. “We need to talk sense into these people and get this reinstated. Augusta is an important part of the country with the medical fields and schools and Fort Gordon, that I couldn’t believe they would take the ROTC program from this area.”
Garner’s grandson, Arthur Garner, completed four years of JROTC at Evans for the sole purpose of enrolling in GRU’s ROTC this fall.
“I was just thinking ‘How could this happen?’ ” Arthur Garner said about hearing the news. “It’s really a lost opportunity for the community. Military life is for me. It’s what I want. So now I have to look for a different school.”
GRU ROTC’s Lt. Col. William Cantrell said he is currently helping about 15 freshmen and sophomore cadets make plans to relocate to other colleges with ROTC programs. About 12 seniors will graduate this year as commissioned officers in the Army, and 27 juniors could potentially finish the program in 2015.
Cantrell said GRU has consistently maintained one of the best ROTC units in the country.
“I would rival our graduates to those from West Point Military Academy,” he said. “They are that good. They are that disciplined. These are quality people that are going to lead our soldiers for the next 20, 30 years.”
GRU ROTC sophomore Darian Abenes, who plans to join the Army after college, said she will likely transfer to University of West Florida next year to continue her ROTC training. She said she chose to attend GRU for its small but high quality ROTC program and struggled to find a comparable college.
“Here we have one-on-one time with the cadre, and we all have mentors,” she said. “It was pretty upsetting to hear this would be cut. The camaraderie here you don’t get anywhere else. We sweat together, we work together.”
William Bloodworth, the president emeritus of the former Augusta State University and current English professor at GRU, said he hopes local efforts can save the program. He said the Army attempted to close the program in 1995, but reconsidered after the late Lt. Gen. Douglas Buchholz, then commanding general at Fort Gordon, and U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn intervened.
“(The cadets) serve their nation, they serve as an example for the other students and they’re willing to take that oath for our country,” Bloodworth said Wednesday. “This is all good for a university.”
Freshman Steven Cauthron said he applied to GRU only for its ROTC program after completing four years of JROTC at Hephzibah High School. Now he plans to leave Augusta behind.
“We really just can’t believe this is happening,” he said. “We all thought we were done searching for a school to go to. We thought we could finish here. It’s like a bad dream.”