Jamie Godwin, Lt. Gabrielle Fong ’16, Lt. Drew Denno ’16, Lt. Josh Clapper ’16, & Joe Gordon ’78 PhD. (Photo: H. Kwan)

Yale recently commemorated the 10th anniversary of the reintegration of ROTC (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps) to campus with a special ceremony attended by alumni, current and former ROTC cadre and staff, and members of the university community, including students.

Offered at more than 1,700 colleges and universities across the United States, ROTC prepares and trains young adults to become commissioned officers in the U.S. military while earning their academic degrees. At Yale, its return meant the restoration of two units – Naval ROTC (NROTC) and Air Force ROTC (AFROTC).

Alumni veterans and service members who were NROTC midshipmen or AFROTC cadets after 2012 were among those who shared their thoughts and reflections on what the anniversary meant to them, as well as their experiences in the program and in the military.

According to Lt. Gabrielle Fong ’16, who was commissioned through NROTC and currently serves in the U.S. Navy as an intelligence officer, and as an active alumna sits on the board of the Yale Veterans Association, the historical connection and shared values between Yale and ROTC run deep, making the reunification of these two institutions entirely fitting.

“Yale was among the original locations for ROTC in the early 20th century. The 10th anniversary of its return to campus is an exciting milestone in the program’s history,” she said, noting that ROTC is an important conduit for students who are interested in or considering serving in uniform.

“We’ve seen dozens of Yalies receive commissions as officers in the military in the decade since ROTC’s return, and it’s exciting to be able to run into them in active service.”

Lt. Gabrielle Fong ’16

One of the things Fong cherished the most from her NROTC participation were the strong bonds and connections that she forged as a student, which carried over into her career in the Navy.

“Some of my best friends were in ROTC with me, and they also supported me and advised me in the fleet,” she said.

For Capt. Madeline Skrocki ’17, a former AFROTC cadet who is currently serving in the U.S. Air Force as an intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance officer stationed in North Carolina, ROTC is not just a commissioning pipeline but also a mechanism to help promote better understanding and foster meaningful discussions on campus about military service, veteran affairs, and national security.

“The program narrows the civilian-military divide, as it increases visibility of the military community through residential military cadre and uniformed students on campus,” she said. “As an undergraduate, some of the most impactful conversations I had on my future service took place when people stopped me on campus because they saw me in uniform or when classmates shared their perspective and questions over a late-night snack at the buttery.”

Skrocki, whose father served in the Air Force for over 30 years before retiring this year, opined that having people with military backgrounds on campus is a boon for the university community.

“Symbiotically, the presence of veterans at Yale, whether faculty, staff members, or students, enriches the Yale experience for all,” she said. “I am proud to be a Yale graduate and an Airman. I am thankful to both Yale and the Air Force for embracing the obligations of service, respect, curiosity, and leadership.”

Other Yale ROTC alumni also highlighted the value and rewards of military service, whether one intends to make it a calling until retirement or serve just a few years.

“Military service is an incredible way to start a career,” said Andrew Heymann ’15, who spent seven years in the U.S. Navy as an explosive ordnance disposal officer and has served in South Korea, Philippines, Guam, Bahrain, and other places. “The military forces its young officers into situations that allow them to mature as leaders, develop as critical thinkers, and become well-rounded professionals that have the soft skills to succeed in any industry.” According to Heymann, the military needs intelligent, capable, and diverse talent and, at the same time, can provide valuable skills, training, and experiences that are highly transferable to other professions and fields.

“My ROTC experience taught me that there is demand for high level thinkers and performers in every job sector, especially the military,” he said. 

“It might look different for Yale undergrads to be walking around campus in uniform, but Yalies contributing to national defense is equally important as graduates taking jobs in business, government, and the arts.”

Andrew Heymann ’15

ROTC’s return to campus was not without its challenges. According to Andrew Hendricks ’14, who is the first Yalie to be commissioned following reintegration, the cultural differences between Yale and the military, compounded by a general lack of understanding, created an environment where, at least initially, there were misconceptions and stereotypes on both sides.

Now working with a technology company after completing his service in the U.S. Air Force, Hendricks urged midshipmen and cadets to make the most of their campus experience by building strong personal connections early on with colleagues and classmates.

“Form and nurture relationships with your peers. These people will become lifelong friends,” he said, adding in jest, “This is something I could do better at.”

Others agreed that despite the strong historical connections between Yale and ROTC, the value of having ROTC back on campus was not a foregone conclusion.

“It was no guarantee that this joint project between the Department of Defense and Yale would succeed, and I think it is to both the University’s and country’s benefit that it has been so successful,” said Sam Cohen ’15, the first Yalie to be commissioned through NROTC after reintegration, who after his service in the U.S. Navy graduated from law school and is currently clerking for a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Cohen added that given the military’s requirements, Yale constitutes a highly attractive recruitment pool, including for those who don’t necessarily see themselves serving in uniform.

“Our military is only as strong and as capable as the people who comprise it,” he said. “If you want leadership opportunities, service opportunities, and an opportunity to shape the character of the military, you should give it a try – your unique perspectives and experiences will make the entire organization better, especially if they are drastically different from the supposed norm.”

A noticeable feature since ROTC’s reintegration on campus is the increasing diversity of the midshipmen and cadet population, including more women and people of color. This year, for instance, NROTC commissioned its first Korean American from the program, and in 2020, it commissioned the first two African Americans. 

One of those midshipmen is Lt. j.g. Devin O’Banion ’20, who is currently a division officer on the USS Fitzgerald and recently returned from an eight-month deployment that included ports of call in Japan, Sri Lanka, India, and Bahrain. For him, the anniversary of ROTC’s return is an opportunity to celebrate, and reaffirm, Yale’s mission of educating the leaders of tomorrow for all sectors of society, including the nation’s military.

“The 10-year anniversary is an important milestone in building a legitimate and impactful Yale presence in the military,” he said. “For decades, Yale students were absent from important decisions being made in the military. It’s exciting to think about the potential for positive change and impact over the years that Yale students can have now that we’re back in the conversation.” 

O’Banion emphasized the importance of having a campus environment that is inclusive and welcoming to support future officers and leaders.

“For all its advertised diversity, Yale can still feel very homogenous in some ways,” he said. “ROTC is a cross section of Yale that is quite diverse socio-economically, politically, and in terms of background. ROTC prepared me well to work with sailors from various backgrounds in the Navy.”

With no regrets on his decision to serve in uniform, O’Banion encouraged others to explore this option.

“There are a lot more students at Yale who would find the military a valuable and formative experience,” he said. “I’m glad I’m beginning my career in what I consider an important job, with such a heightened level of responsibility, right out of college.”

Someone who understands this well is retired Colonel Scott Manning, the inaugural commander of Yale AFROTC following reintegration, who himself was commissioned through AFROTC in college and spent 28 years in the U.S. Air Force.

You will not find a more rewarding job in your lifetime than supporting and defending the Constitution of the United States,” he said, stressing that now, more than ever, there is an urgent need for talented, committed individuals to serve in uniform given the “extremely nuanced and direct threats” to international peace in the world. “The Department of Defense needs the very best this nation has to offer, and Yale is providing those thought and transformational leaders necessary in this current dynamic global security environment.”

Echoing this sentiment and the need for ongoing vigilance from ROTC to identify, train, and prepare the best officers from a wide variety of backgrounds and settings, was retired Commander Jamie Godwin, the first commanding officer of Yale NROTC following reintegration, who served in the Navy for 30 years after graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy.

“ROTC provides the nation and military services diversity, specifically diversity of thought and ideas,” he said. “It provides a forum for gaining different perspectives which will eventually trickle down into national policy. Through a multitude of backgrounds and experiences, better policies and plans will be made.”

For Yalies who are looking for challenge, growth, leadership opportunities, and the chance to make a difference, the military is hard to beat, according to Capt. Alex Tymchenko ’17, a former AFROTC cadet who was commissioned into and serving in the U.S. Air Force until he transferred last year to the U.S. Space Force and is currently an offensive cyber operator stationed in Texas.“After graduating, the cadets and midshipmen at Yale entering military service will work jobs very different than their fellow students,” he said. “At 22 years old, my first assignment was leading a team of 65 young airmen operating military satellite systems supporting combat operations.”

“My time at Yale in the classroom and in ROTC prepared me for leadership under pressure and taught me the importance of diversity in teams and having wingmen.”

Capt. Alex Tymchenko ’17

Like other ROTC alumni, Tymchenko resounded the value of strong relationships that are cultivated through the program and on campus, which carry over into one’s military career and beyond.

“The friendships forged during ROTC’s early morning training sessions and field exercises will extend well beyond your time at Yale,” he said. “Explore activities outside of ROTC as well – engaging with your peers of different backgrounds in the classroom and in your residential colleges will make you a more informed and empathetic leader of those you are charged to lead.”

In commemorating the 10th anniversary of ROTC’s return to campus, what cannot be overlooked is the dedication and sacrifices of the men and women of Yale who make the decision to join ROTC and serve in uniform.

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