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The Students in Uniform: What Do ROTC Cadets Do?

By Michael Norfolk, Features Contributor

The Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) is a component of the U.S. Military with the sole purpose of commissioning officers into the services. Founded by the National Defense Act of 1916, it was meant to create reserve officers who could fill in for the active army, which was lacking. After World War I, the program was fully implemented on college campuses throughout the country to commission officers into the Active Duty military, its Reserve component and states’ National Guards. In exchange for their service obligation to the military, contracted ROTC Cadets have their tuition, fees, housing and meal plans paid for, as well as a monthly stipend to cover the cost of books and other expenses.

It’s unknown to a lot of students, but this kind of program is offered on our campus. Canisius College is home to the Golden Griffin Battalion, an Army ROTC program that includes Canisius, University at Buffalo, Buffalo State, Daemen College, Hilbert College, Medaille College, Erie Community College and D’Youville College.

The Army offers a variety of career opportunities for officers to gain experience for their civilian careers, not just combat arms. Branches include the Finance Corps, Adjutant General’s Corps, Chemical Corps, Cyber Corps, Medical Services and Judge Advocate General’s Corps, amongst over a dozen others. The opportunity to gain experience in a career interest, serve their country, graduate without student loan debt and to grow as leaders are all reasons why thousands of cadets contract through ROTC every year. At Canisius, three MSIIIs (juniors) have contracted and excel academically, socially, physically and as cadets: Julia Vanaskie, John Federice and Sean O’Meara have made the most out of their college experience while simultaneously studying to commission as second lieutenants next spring.

Julia Vanaskie is from Lancaster, NY and is an alumnus of Lancaster Central High School. Known for being organized, prepared and competitive, she has established herself as a great student and future officer. She came to Canisius to study animal behavior, ecology and conservation (ABEC) and is also minoring in psychology. Julia chose to join ROTC because of the benefits and opportunities it provides her while in college. One of the top cadets in the program, she uses an interdisciplinary approach to her leadership as she combines what she learns in her ABEC and psychology classes with what she learns in ROTC to create a unique understanding of behavioral and cognitive processes. She still plans to work with animals in the future and she believes the lessons she’s taken from ROTC will aid her in any career she pursues.

John Federice is one of the hardest working people in the program, and that goes beyond just his academic record. While balancing a large course load as a chemistry ACS major, his ROTC duties, maintaining a social life and keeping up with his physical fitness, he has maintained a high GPA and is one of the top students in the program. I asked John to describe his typical day for me:

“A typical day in my life starts at 4:45 in the morning. If it is Monday or Friday, I like to go to the gym around 5:00 a.m. because I usually don’t have enough time during the day. ... My day usually consists of two to three classes, mainly chemistry classes such as medicinal chemistry, physical chemistry and analytical chemistry, he said. “Then I will either have a science lab, or I TA for a general chemistry lab. I try to complete the work I need to get done and I typically go to bed by 9:00 or 10:00 p.m. My days are busy, but I really value the structure ROTC provides me with my daily schedule.”

Despite his busy schedule, John is excited about his military career and plans to branch into the Chemical Corps upon commissioning next spring. When John initially enrolled in his military science classes, he did so because he was interested in participating in morning physical readiness training (PRT). But as he progressed through the course, he became increasingly interested in making a career in the military and eventually accepted a full scholarship from the program.

Sean O’Meara was born and raised in Hamburg, NY. A natural competitor, he wrestled and raced cross country while at St. Francis High School because he enjoys pushing himself both physically and mentally. After undergoing surgery for a collapsed lung in summer 2019, he decided he wanted to push himself to be a better person and accepted a three-year ROTC scholarship to Canisius. Sean comes from a long line of service members, and he believes it’s his duty to serve in the military, citing his dad as an inspiration for him. Much like his dad, Sean takes pride in his physical and mental health and spends his free time running and working out. A psychology major, he is looking at graduate schools where he can earn his doctorate in anthropology.

As an MSIII cadet myself, I’ve been lucky to grow close to these three people over the past few years. But they are just some of the great people I’ve met in the program. Through Canisius ROTC, I’ve been able to connect with people from all walks of life, and they all have different stories for why they joined, as well as different plans for their careers. I’ve met lacrosse players who wanted to be infantry officers, prior-enlisted soldiers who wanted to be teachers, students who joined to pay for school (my dad was one of them), baseball players who wanted to be personal trainers, track athletes, cops, nurses; people who joined to get their master’s degrees and even people who wanted to be helicopter pilots. The ROTC lifestyle isn’t always easy, but it is an opportunity open for everyone.

The ROTC office is located in the Health Science building. If you have questions about the program, feel free to reach out to me at

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