Since Purdue’s founding, the military has played an integral part in the University’s development. The existence of military training was a condition of the Morrill Land-Grant Act, the law which authorized the foundation of Purdue and many other public universities across the country.
Since 1876, some form of military training has existed at Purdue, and the Armory could not be a better symbol of the historic relationship between public service and Purdue University. Its central location in the heart of campus represents the central role that military service has played at Purdue. It’s hard to view Purdue President Mitch Daniels’ decision to move Purdue’s ROTC programs out of the Armory as anything other than an affront to the values of selfless service and sacrifice that ROTC brings to Purdue.
The Armory is not just a symbol. It is a place where cadets, like myself, are molded through sweat and study. If you look at the talent that the ROTC programs have produced, both past and present, it is hard to argue that the ROTC programs have not earned their spot within the Armory.
Purdue Army ROTC is the only ROTC program in the nation to deploy. We were activated during the Spanish American War. During World War I, 3,868 Purdue students, graduates and faculty members served in the military. After WWI, Purdue became one of the premier training institutions in field artillery under Maj. Lesley McNair. In fact, one-eighth of all reserve artillery officers during the interwar period came from Purdue. McNair was so successful in his role at Purdue that Edward Elliott, the president of Purdue at the time, protested his early reassignment. The Armory drill floor is named after 2nd Lt. Harry Michael, a Medal of Honor recipient. Michael earned the nation’s highest honor after personally killing more than 12 enemies and capturing 68 in Neiderzerf, Germany, during World War II.
The Armory and ROTC programs within it continue to produce talent today. Exactly 74% of rising seniors in Purdue Army ROTC graduated summer training with an outstanding or excellent evaluation this year. Five out of 22 cadets graduating from Purdue this semester placed in the top 10% of cadets nationwide. Furthermore, eight cadets earned the title of Distinguished Military Graduate.
Purdue ROTC also attracts some of the most talented military instructors in the nation. Master Sgt. Brian Arbic was the non-commissioned officer in charge of testing and evaluating the Army’s new uniforms. Lt. Col. Thomas Genter will leave Purdue this summer as full-bird colonel to work at the United States Army Space and Missile Defense Command. As a colonel, he will only be one promotion away from general.
It would be impossible to attract and retain this talent without the Armory, and the rumors about the potential relocation spaces simply indicate that Daniels is woefully misinformed about what it takes to train the next generation of military leaders. The military is undergoing a fundamental change as we transition away from the counterinsurgency operations of the past 20 years in order to prepare to fight near-peer competitors such as China and Russia.
However, we are reminded that even though the military is making this transition, there is a chance that some of us may deploy to the Middle East within a year of graduating. In order to accommodate both kinds of warfare, the training requirements for ROTC cadets are becoming increasingly demanding.
As a senior in the Army ROTC program, I experienced what it means to train America’s next generation of fighters during cadet summer training. CST is a mandatory training event for all rising seniors in Army ROTC, across the nation. We are tested on land navigation, marksmanship and our athletic and leadership abilities.
We go 11 days without a shower in the Kentucky heat. We are expected to lead and motivate our peers even after attempting to sleep in torrential rain.
And this year’s CST for our current juniors will be harder than the last. CST will increase from 28 days to 37, and it will include live-fire exercises.
We would not be able to train these cadets for CST without the Armory. The large, open space allows us to perform gear layouts, work out — we have a CrossFit group — and perform classroom instruction. We have taken apart rifles, performed squad and platoon level tactics, like room clearing, in the Armory. And these are just the requirements of the Army ROTC program. I find it hard to believe that there is another space on campus that could house the approximately 450 cadets that take part in ROTC.
The Armory’s central location also makes it easier to balance our ROTC and academic commitments. During the eight semesters I have been in ROTC, I have taken more than 18 credit hours for five of those semesters. During one of those semesters, I took 21 credit hours. I am not an outlier. Most cadets will have at least one semester with more than 20 credit hours. We are asked to wake up at 6 in the morning, three days a week. There are days when we show up to the Armory as early as 4:30 a.m. The Armory’s central location on campus is a boon to those underclassmen who don’t own a car and cannot rely on public transportation during these times.
The Armory does not just serve the ROTC programs. It has always served the larger Purdue community. At last month’s University Senate meeting, Daniels said, “We’re making arrangements to accommodate, I think very effectively, the ROTC ... and the one other club that uses it.”
Daniels may need to take a step out of his office if he believes that only one other organization other than the ROTC programs uses the Armory. Boiler Gold Rush, blood drives, the Purdue Drone Club, Purdue Medieval Society, Purdue University Dance Marathon, Purdue University Cricket Club and even The Exponent’s Housing Fair are just some of the organizations and events that have used the Armory space. There simply is not another large, general-purpose space like the Armory on campus.
In fact, Daniels has not made the case for why we need to repurpose the drill floor. He has not even presented a concrete plan for how the Armory will be repurposed. Does Purdue need more retail space? More importantly, will Daniels’ plan for the Armory transform it from a functional space into a white elephant like many of the other new buildings on campus?
I think many of my fellow students agree that new buildings like the Wilmeth Active Learning Center and Bechtel Innovation Design Center were built to look nice in order to appeal to donors instead of students. I don’t think I am exaggerating when I say that at least one-eighth of WALC is some form of a staircase. And Bechtel currently uses its paint oven, a device that probably cost tens of thousands of dollars, as a very expensive closet.
The lack of a plan makes it seem like Daniels is more concerned with removing the ROTC programs from their historic home than improving students’ lives. The lack of transparency is quite insulting. The ROTC programs were only notified that they would be rehomed through The Exponent’s coverage of the University Senate meeting. As it stands, Purdue does not have a plan, or has not communicated one, for the ROTC programs.
At a time when Daniels and our political leadership bemoan the moral decline of America, I find it ironic, even two-faced, that Daniels would impede those of us that are willing to lay down our lives for this country. As cadets, we have all made sacrifices in our personal and academic lives in order to be a part of ROTC. I cannot think of a greater form of civic engagement than military service, especially when Daniels laments the poor state of American civic literacy.
President Daniels, we have heard your vocal appreciation for our decision to serve. While we appreciate those words, your actions are simply insulting to those of us training to serve our country.