Harry Locke / Lantern reporter
Vitalized on the brink of dawn, at an hour when most are still clinging to sheets and pillows, Bridget Ruccia is all smiles.
She paces by Converse Hall, a ghost-white-colored building providing 70 years of service as the center of military education and activity at Ohio State.
“This was where I was free to be what I wanted to be for the rest of my life,” Ruccia said. “Not a college student, but an Air Force officer.”
At 22 years old, Ruccia, a fourth-year in Chinese and international studies, is one of the most decorated cadets currently in the Air Force Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, or AFROTC, at OSU.
Among a parade of accolades, Ruccia was appointed the highest cadet position of Wing Commander Fall Quarter, and was flown to Shanghai to represent OSU at the Global Forum of College Students on Environmental Concerns at Shanghai Jiao Tong University.
There, she proved her winning ways were not confined to the 50 states, bringing back the Best Delegation Award.
“I live with one of the core values that the Air Force has, before I even knew it existed: excellence in all we do,” she said.
In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, ROTC programs nationwide reported a steady increase in enrollment for the Air Force, Army and Navy programs. The Naval Service Training Command in Great Lakes, Ill., reported growth spurts of more than 12 percent each year between 2001 and 2004.
“There was so much talk, and not a lot of action,” Ruccia said. “It is my job to protect the freedoms in this country, and this is the path that I’m going to go down, because the freedoms that we hold here and sometimes take for granted, are not held in other countries.”
Leadership opportunities and patriotism factors have served as the crux of the national ROTC program since its total inception at OSU.
Born out of the “Ohio Plan,” a blueprint for an organized military science and drill program by then-professor of military science Col. George Leroy Converse, Jr., the Student Army Training Corps, or SATC, was formed on OSU’s campus in 1916.
The outfit was later renamed the Reserve Officer Training Corps, according to the Army ROTC’s website.
ROTC enrollment was originally mandatory for students enrolled at OSU. But rising opposition to U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War during the late 1960s influenced the program to become voluntary.
However, ROTC recruiters said with the price of today’s college education skyrocketing, and the job economy in a state of uncertainty, heightened awareness of benefits that cadets in the ROTC receive has brought renewed interest.
In addition to receiving a military-oriented education, many cadets within the program receive full tuition scholarships, as well as coverage on books, uniforms and a monthly stipend.
Those who accept and are able to sustain their scholarship agree to a contract of four or six years as commissioned officers in the U.S. Armed Forces, which brings a guaranteed salary post-graduation.
Now competition for these benefits has escalated dramatically.
“We have more cadets applying for scholarships than in previous years, and we’re holding them to higher standards,” said Capt. Michael Glaser, commanding officer and professor of Naval Science at OSU. “Eighty-five percent of our incoming freshmen will have either a technical major, or something in the hard sciences.”
All Navy ROTC cadets receiving a scholarship are required to take calculus and calculus-based physics in order to become commissioned officers.
“If you’re going out there working on a submarine, working on an aircraft carrier, flying a plane, manning the ships we have, it requires a deep background in technical-type degrees,” Glaser said.
However, with Defense Secretary of the U.S. Robert Gates’ January announcement that the military budget would be cut by $78 billion over the next five years, a new set of obstacles have been placed for those seeking scholarship opportunities through the ROTC.
“With a budget cut that’s in process, the money that’s going to theater in Iraq or Afghanistan, the money that typically gets cut are scholarship dollars or enlistment bonuses for enlistment folks,” said Maj. Ronald Sargent, recruiting operations officer within OSU’s Army ROTC.
Enrollment rates are staying steady, but the amount of people applying for scholarships has risen in contingency with the rise in college tuition, Sargent said. He suspects that almost 9,000 cadets in the Army ROTC are now applying for the 1,000 national scholarships offered.
“With the economy, a lot of people are looking for jobs, and the government is looking to cut budgets, and the officer corps is getting cut,” Ruccia said, who has seen the repercussions first-hand through underclassmen joining the ROTC program. “So, when you see the cadets on campus walking around in their uniforms, they’re going through a lot of stuff, because they’re competing with their classmates, their friends, and its just a really hard thing to do.”
Ruccia said holidays like Memorial Day, which is Monday, have new significance to her since she joined ROTC.
“Previously I didn’t associate it with myself, but since joining the military it has grown to new meaning,” Ruccia said in an email. “The women and men that we honor on Memorial Day are those that gave the ultimate sacrifice for the sake of Americans and the good of the world.”
Ruccia, who will graduate this spring, and is scheduled to begin serving her commission on Oct. 1, is counting on similar skills that she has developed through years of both laborious physical and mental work.
“I can’t tell you how many nights I’ve looked down at my watch and said ‘Wow, she’s still at the detachment,'” said Michael Ruccia, a fourth-year in criminology and history and Bridget’s 22-year-old husband who is enrolled in the Bulldog program, a prep course for Marines going to officer candidate school. “The amount of work she’s put in, and had to do, it’s really impressive.”
If his wife has her way, she’s yet to put the exclamation point on a banner career start.
“Presidency, that’s the ultimate goal,” Bridget said. “I still have 12 years left, though it would be cool to be the youngest one.”