Less screaming, more diversity: Aggie Corps of Cadets reboots for 21st century

Discussion in 'Publicly and Privately Funded Military Colleges' started by Lawman32RPD, Sep 11, 2016.

  1. Lawman32RPD

    Lawman32RPD Member

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    This article appeared in “The Eagle” (the general circulation newspaper for Bryan-College Station, Texas today, 11 Sep 2016). There are photographs in the link below.

    By MATTHEW WATKINS Texas Tribune | 0 comments

    Life is never easy for members of the Texas A&M University Corps of Cadets, an ROTC-like military program that dates to the 1800s. Students wake up before sunrise, endure tough morning conditioning drills and wear stuffy military style uniforms to class in the hot September sun.

    But starting this semester, cadets get one small luxury: Fancy coffee. During a recent renovation, a two-story Starbucks was added to one of the Corps’ barracks-like dorms. Now, in between 6 a.m. roll call and 9 a.m. class, freshmen with buzz cuts can relax in comfy chairs, sip iced coffee and listen to the soothing sounds of Spanish guitar.

    The perk is a small part of a larger effort to move the Corps beyond its hell-raising, hidebound reputation. The Corps of Cadets still clings proudly to traditions — the university calls the group the “keepers of the Aggie spirit” — but it’s trying to evolve with an emphasis on academics, diversity and leadership. Upperclassmen are now encouraged to scream less at the freshmen. More time is devoted to school and sleep. And for two straight years, a woman has been selected as commander, the top student leadership post in an organization that was all male until the 1970s.

    In the end, it’s a kinder, gentler Corps that’s devoted to creating leaders in the military and business worlds.

    “The stuff we thought was so much fun [decades ago] probably doesn’t fit into society right now,” said A&M System Chancellor John Sharp, who joined the Corps as an undergraduate in the late 1960s.

    The changes appear to be working. After decades of stagnation, enrollment is up. And last semester, students in the Corps posted an average GPA of 3.06 — the highest in Corps history. School officials say the changes may have saved the Corps from extinction, even if they are jarring to many “old Ags.”

    “I couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to work at a Starbucks in the quad in my day — for fear of being dragged into a mud hole,” Sharp said.

    Less Screaming

    The man behind most of those changes is Brig. Gen. Joe Ramirez, who took over as commandant of the Corps in 2010. He credits the Corps with saving his life. As a listless high school student in Houston’s Second Ward, he likely wasn’t heading to college. Then, he saw the military-style Aggie Band, all of whose members are cadets, marching through Houston before a football game with Rice University. A saxophone player, he decided he had to join.

    His time in the Corps led to a career in the Army — military service isn’t mandatory for Corps members, but graduates can enter the military as commissioned officers. He returned as commandant 31 years after graduation, and was shocked by what he found.

    Corps enrollment had stagnated between 1,800 and 1,900 for decades, while total enrollment at A&M had surpassed 50,000. For almost all of A&M’s first century, membership in the Corps was mandatory for undergraduates. By 2010, the group was a minor part of a major school. Cadet grades were bad. And to many outsiders, its members were known more for hazing incidents and bizarre behavior during football games than the quality of the military officers it created.

    “The Corps seemed like a very small element in a very large university,” he said.

    It also seemed stuck in the past. During his first career, Ramirez watched the military evolve and embrace new training and leadership styles. At the Corps, little had changed. He said he was particularly worried about the “screaming, yelling, cursing and demeaning of freshmen, simply because they were freshmen.” This happened in the mornings during physical drills, in between classes on campus and in the dorms at night.

    Freshmen were here for the upperclassmen’s entertainment,” he said. “And that concerned me. I looked at this and said, ‘In the military, I would never allow my junior leaders to lead soldiers like this.’”

    Ramirez responded by restructuring his cadets’ entire day. Cadets still wake up by 6 a.m. for physical training and morning formation, where they line up, honor the flag and march to eat breakfast in the nearby dining hall. But now at 7:30 a.m., they begin the “academic day,” and are mostly left alone to go to class, study or rest. Ramirez has made clear that Corps duties shouldn’t conflict with class schedules. From 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., there are more Corps activities, including dinner. But “evening study time” begins at 7:30 p.m., and Corps members are to be left alone until the next morning.

    “We had to come in and set some limits and change some mindsets,” Ramirez said. “And it wasn’t easy.”

    The overhaul was physical and philosophical. A&M’s quad, where all the Corps dorms are housed, has been extensively renovated in the last few years. Each dorm has been remodeled, or is being remodeled now. In addition to the new Starbucks, the Corps has opened four leadership learning centers, which are basically mini-libraries where Corps students can study or get tutoring.

    More Diversity

    Meanwhile, the Corps, which is still overwhelmingly male, has stepped up its recruitment of women and minorities. Two years ago, the organization made national news when it selected its first woman student commander, Alyssa Michalke. A small number of alumni opposed the move. But Ramirez said she was selected because she was the best person for the job. Far less news was generated last year when another woman was picked for the same position.

    Overall recruitment has also improved. When Ramirez was hired, then-A&M President Bowen Loftin set a goal of increasing enrollment from 1,800 to 2,600 by 2020. This year, enrollment is over 2,500 and Ramirez has a new goal: 3,000 cadets by 2020.

    And the Corps GPA of 3.06 is up from 2.6 in 2010, compared to a university-wide GPA of 2.9.

    But with all the progress, Ramirez has tried to keep the Corps’ most treasured customs intact. Cadets still march through campus and into the stadium before football games in the fall. Freshmen still have buzzed hair, and seniors still wear tall brown boots to class. The Corps is major presence at Aggie events like Midnight Yell Practice before football games and the Muster and Silver Taps ceremonies that honor fallen Aggie students and alumni. Without the Corps, A&M wouldn’t be the same, officials say.

    “I like to tell people that the Corps mixes the Kool-Aid, and then everybody drinks it,” Sharp said.

    http://www.theeagle.com/news/a_m/less-screaming-more-diversity-aggie-corps-of-cadets-reboots-for/article_80672034-77dc-11e6-bf8a-737bc7d25a10.html
     
  2. Maplerock

    Maplerock Proud to be an American

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    Ahhh... more spiced latte's, Spanish guitar music, and women in charge. It's a brave new world for the Coast Guard.
     
  3. Jcc123

    Jcc123 Member

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    Well you pretty much hit all the high spots, but you forgot to disparage minorities and gays. You need to step up your game a little @Maplerock.
     
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  4. NavyHoops

    NavyHoops Moderator

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    I think I am with JCC on this one Maplerock... But let me first understand... What are you getting at? Help me understand if you would.

    I find the Starbucks piece a little fluffy, but in all honesty they can go anywhere else and get coffee I am sure on campus. His point of treating people like you would in the military has a very valid point. Freshman aren't there for entertainment. There is a distinct difference in training with a purpose and training without one (which some may even call hazing). Outside of Plebe Summer (as an officer I never ran around screaming and dropping Marines) I never once treated a Plebe or other Mid differently than I would in the fleet. Focus on academics, keeping traditions alive and removing training that has no purpose... Sounds like a solid plan to me. Be curious to see the correlation of a larger Corps and what it produces in terms of commissions.
     
  5. Maplerock

    Maplerock Proud to be an American

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    Sorry to offend. Just can't be as PC as most. Gotta work on that. Meant to say Aggies too... sorry CG.
     
  6. Jcleppe

    Jcleppe Member

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    Best quote in the article.
     
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  7. Lawman32RPD

    Lawman32RPD Member

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    It is true, on a campus with now more than 50,000 undergraduates, there are several Starbucks already on grounds (of course, with a school the size of A&M the phrase "the grounds" has to be placed in geographical context - it is a pretty big campus. There are also other food vendors on campus, and a lively section of town known as "Northgate" across the street, home to a variety of restaurants, fast food joints, and other entertainment venues. I didn't attend A&M, nor any of the service academies nor senior military colleges - but I got into "this line of work" after my daughter went to A&M, followed by her brother three years later. Our son's best friend is now a junior at the Virginia Military Institute, like his father. Other Scouts from his troop have graduated from West Point, the Naval Academy, and the Air Force Academy. We had a Citadel graduate as an Assistant Scoutmaster, and a number of ROTC graduates too. Now A&M isn't perfect - and I've yet to meet the human institution that is; but is an institution that is growing and developing, and it's Corps is at the center of its traditions and spirit. Through our daughter and our son we've come to know many cadets who aspire to become-or indeed in the case of our now graduated daughter - have become officers in all of the armed services. My purpose in posting the article was simply to highlight that growth and development for prospective cadets and their parents. On a related note, I'm very proud to know those young men and women and, to be candid, don't feel like the whole place has gone to pot just because it is a few hundred yards closer to a Starbucks.
     
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  8. VMI Super 77

    VMI Super 77 New Member

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    On August 22,2016 506 new cadets matriculated at Virginia Military Institute. I know for a certainty that they did not find a kinder and gentler Institute. Many have already left. All that are there are suffering. The only places where pain and suffering even comes close are at Quantico, MCRD Parris Island, and MCRD San Diego and of all of those are places are far more pleasant and less stressful. Why are they doing this they continually ask themselves? US Service Academies have many perks. Cadets get paid. They even give probation to some underclassmen for honor code violations. Texas A&M, The VPI Corps, Norwich and the Citadel are like comparing boy/girl scout camp to Andersonville. All Honor code violators Rat to 1st classman are drummed out in the middle of the night. So why are they there? When they are confronted with real life stressful decisions sometimes life or death they will be prepared. Attending OCS, Jump School, Ranger School will be a walk in the park if one can only survive the Rat Line and the grueling academics and routine for four long years. But the biggest benefit is intangible. Upon graduating Alumni become members of one of the most exclusive clubs in the whole world. Any VMI Graduate knows they can trust any of the living 15,000 graduates in the whole world. Ask anyone how many people how many people are there that they know they can absolutely trust and very few will say 15,000. When I became a USMC Lieutenant I naively thought that graduates of US Service Academies had the same sense of honor but was in for a rude awakening. Remembering being one of those Rats thinking ' why am I doing this?' there is absolutely no place on earth that is a better place to be from but one of the worst places on earth to be at.
     
  9. NavyHoops

    NavyHoops Moderator

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    I know many wonderful SMC grads. The only two officers I saw thrown out of the USMC were a Citadel and VMI grad when I served. There are bad apples anywhere. No institution is perfect. When I was at USNA honor violations were nearly an automatic dismissal. I wish it was 100%. The way you feel about the Corps is the way I feel about USNA and my fellow grads, blemishes and all. I can tell you those I am close with from USNA are the best humans I know. Thanks Lawman for the article. Interesting read. Back when I was going through it all my good buddy's (at USNA) Dad ran the NROTC Dept at A&M, great place. I would be curious with this growth if the commissioning numbers go up.
     
  10. VMI Super 77

    VMI Super 77 New Member

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    I in no way want to disparage the service academy grads or any other institution. Many patriotic honorable Americans have graduated from all and I've met many. I'd like to know who this VMI grad that got thrown out of the USMC is and why. Personally I endured hardship and one of my CO's tried to get me thrown out. He hated the fact that I stood up to him and stood up for my troops. When his negligence got people killed and I blindly told investigators the truth my problems only got worse. I persevered though.
     
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  11. NavyHoops

    NavyHoops Moderator

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    Can't remember the details of the VMI one to be honest... If I remember right something with frat with an enlisted member. Could be wrong as we had another one of those from the Citadel and all kinds of weird drama with that one. I remember that one being like a real life soap! At that time we actually had 3 officers on 'house arrest' living in the BOQ, made for interesting duty to bring meals to them. 1 was a senior Capt who had pilot wings and was somehow a non-flier. His reasoning... 'I was too good.' Apparently he was so good the Marine Corps just had to let him go! Heck I had a handful of bad apples in my class. Luckily they were discovered and ran out before they could lead Sailors or Marines.
     
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  12. repatriot

    repatriot Member

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    To NavyHoops: during my time in the service, I remember a Naval Academy grad who got kicked out of a training program for lying, another Naval Academy grad who was discharged for stealing in the base exchange, and a WestPoint grad getting kicked out of a joint training program after melting-down and attacking other students, so yes I agree "bad apples come from everywhere..."
    To VMI Super77: your post above is spot on from what I've seen of VMI! While some are lowering their standards for money, changing their missions for money, and easily bending with the winds of political correctness, it seems that VMI is remaining true to the values, spirit, and the toughness that made the institution what it is today. It takes guts to stay the course nowadays! Doesn't make for great sports teams in today's world, but it does make for a great (and unique) school! It's the toughest of the SMCs and I've been VERY impressed with the VMI grads I've met across the globe. But then again, I've met some great Aggies as well and it is impressive to see the Texas A&M Commandant standing up and making positive changes in the Corps! Wish the Commandant and all the Aggies the best!!
     
    Last edited: Sep 12, 2016
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