More than a Program: ROTC finds community in midst of COVID-19

In the fall, “Lot 31” across from memorial stadium, is used as a the hotspot for tailgating. This fall, the setting is a little different, Lot 31 now serves as the outside practice facility for reserve Officers’ Training Corps, ROTC, students. 

On Friday, Aug. 31, cadets began using the field for socially- distanced training and fitness workouts. The University offered Lot 31 due to the ongoing construction at the Siebel Center, where training is typically held.original training area. With COVID-19 precautions and regulations from the national ROTC program, the UI faculty and staff painted 142 circles for individual workouts and running lanes. Cadets are also expected to wear masks until they are in their individual circles. 

Steven Irace, Battalion Operations officer, said despite the changes, he is grateful that the University has opportunities for its students to be safe on campus.  

“It definitely makes me feel good to see and get the emails from the school that the testing centers account for 3% of the nationwide testing,” said Irace.

“It is good that our school can be a deacon for what a lot of schools and other organizations can do in the future.” 

While ROTC students are allowed to be on campus and use buildings and facilities with limitations, traditional events, such as participating in football games as ‘push up crew’  and senior’s Cadet Summer Training have been cancelled. 

Henry Feldhaus, Senior in Mechanical Engineering has been a part of ROTC since his freshman year. He said that the adjustments to the “new normal” has been a challenge. 

ROTC is always a part of the football games. Without that, that is a part of the student spirit dying a little bit,” Feldhaus said. “It has been rough, but I know it is necessary and we are all getting used to it.” 

Both  cadets mentioned that their close- knit relationship and innovation has not changed. Irace mentioned ROTC has also implemented a mentor- program for seniors to partner with the underclassmen as a way to keep the in person contact minimal and help students adjust. 

Regardless of  minimal contact, Feldhaus expressed the value of community during the pandemic. 

“Anyone in ROTC is a family and we have each other’s back 100% of the time,” Feldhaus said. “These group of people are some of my best friends ever… Knowing that other people are going to show up at 6am is pretty motivating for myself.” 

Like many during these unprecedented times, ROTC does not know what is in store for the next few months of the school year. Lt. Daniel W. Johnson, Professor of Military science expressed his excitement that the cadets can go outside and stay active. 

“I think there is a component of mental and emotional health of everyone where you want to be engaged with something other than online classes,” Johnson said. “This gives them the opportunity to get out of their apartment or dorm room and be part of something team focused, and safe.”