Tuesday, October 18, 2011

"So, just who the **** are you?" (Joining ROTC)

October 2011

I’ve forgotten to mention in the last post that I’ve started up ROTC here at UNC, transferring from Manchester and Salford OTC for the year. Now I’ve got to be careful with what I say about comparing the two, certainly in terms of not pissing off the higher echelons of both Units, but also for security reasons (can’t be posting on the internet all the tactics each Army uses now can I!) Nevertheless, the past few weeks of involvement with the ROTC has been interesting for me. My first interaction with the UNC Tar Heel Battalion (as it is known) was a rather intense one-on-one interview with the Commanding Officer. It took roughly 3 hours for me to explain who I was, what I was doing there and what the English OTC system was like in terms of where to place me in the American ROTC system.  Typical with all things public sector, the papers I had sent off in May beforehand still hadn’t got through to the unit, and as such they had no real idea (apart from a few emails) who I was. Typical! Anyways, being the British guy in a unit of Americans is cool – with a lot of fascination flowing both ways. It was a bit of a baptism of fire, as the first parade involved getting up for a 6am 4mile run on a Monday morning. Very grim. And being a lazy **** all summer made me even more nervous about not wanting to stand out for being the unfit douche rocking up and looking dumb. Luckily I managed to pull it out the bag and finish just over the 30min mark (very proud of myself!) and was glad to realise that like back home, there are some VERY unfit people within the unit.

I am wearing my British Army uniform whilst training here (making me stand out even more!) but walking around campus is great with all the double looks I get! That’s another thing, on a Wednesday you have to go to class in uniform – very different from the Manchester security conscious attitude of not wearing uniform anywhere except at the Unit. I guess this links into the different attitudes towards the military here in the States compared to back home. The military is truly supported here and people genuinely think the world of the soldiers. This is very different to back home where we are not allowed to wear uniform in public die to security risks, and on Remembrance Day last year we were followed by riot police in case of a violent reaction to us marching in the streets. Despite having my own uniform, I don’t have any of my own kit, and as such am having to use the kit issued by the ROTC unit. Let me say now, I am never bitching about the kit we get in Manchester ever again. I really don’t like the kit we use here – the webbing doesn’t have any utility pouches, doesn’t tighten properly and has things hanging off it everywhere. So when crawling on the ground everything falls off and it looks like a bag of shite. I also really don’t like the compasses we use – they look like they were designed in the 1960’s and are rather bulky and cumbersome. Furthermore, taking a bearing is a right bitch, as it can’t be done just using the compass itself – instead lines have to be drawn all over the map with the use of a protractor. Bloody hard in the woods in the dark whilst also trying to find a torch! However, I have been issued a cool American digi-cam camelback, and a t-shirt with ARMY written across it (simple pleasures!). The uniform I bought with me from home really isn’t suited to the climate here (being designed for cold raining England), and as such I am always hang out of my arse sweating within 30 seconds of standing outside. But I have to say training in sunshine and the dry for a change is VERY nice. Especially in comparison to the “Bleak Leek” days of always raining and snowing, even if the rest of the country is enjoying 30 degree Celsius temperatures!

The training is also very different to home, with only one weekend per semester (compared to Manchester’s every other week) and shorter training sessions during the week of 2 hours or so. However, there are a greater number of sessions – 3 PT sessions at 6am, one classroom ‘lab’ and one outside ‘lab’ a week. It’s been a bit of a challenge trying to integrate into the unit, especially with all the different acronyms for things (the US army likes acronyms just as much as the British one!) and the fact there is no socialisation outside of the unit activities for me to get to know people – a far cry from the massive drinking culture prevalent within the UK OTC units (I mean, we don’t drink to excess, just a responsible amount obviously…)

It is interesting to see who the US ROTC is treated as a Unit in comparison to the UK OTC, in terms of pay etc. In the UK we are paid per training session we do, with a minimum requirement for out year bounty, but the ability to choose a little or as much training as possible, with the amount of take home pay collected reflecting that. In the US as far, as I’m aware, you receive a set amount of money monthly depending on your time served, regardless of the amount of training you do. Further to this within the US ROTC when you join you have to contract into the US army after you graduate, in return for paid tuition fees and money towards books etc. This is a far cry from the (current) OTC system where there is no obligation to commission into the Army after you graduate. However, I feel this has positives and negatives, in that it helps aid a professionalism within the unit here as people know that they will be leading others once they graduate, but at the same time I feel it prevents others from potentially joining to see what the ROTC is like, and as such in the future they may have National Guard Reserves under them and not allow them time off for training – something the (current) OTC system aims to happen for those who don’t wish to commission into the British Army. It also seems a lot more common for ex-soldiers who wish to go to Uni to join an ROTC unit whilst at college, and so within the Tar Heel Battalion there a few US marines knocking around and apparently an SF guy (although I don’t think I’ve met him yet). Obviously being British I manage quite successfully to bridge the gaps between years and can quite happily chat away to anyone which is pretty good – some fantastic stories come out that’s for sure!

Now I would write about tactics, but in the interest of national security I won’t (OTC-ers, fairly similar but some key differences – some good some bad in my opinion!), instead I’ll write about my ROTC mentor, DJ. I’m not sure if this is US wide, but certainly within the Tar Heel Battalion a mentor system exists with 4th years having 1 or 2 mentees with whom they are supposed to look out for and help integrate into the ROTC and college way of life. Personally, I think this is a fantastic idea, and would seriously push for this to happen at Manchester. The Mentors take the mentees out a few times a semester and simply act as a person to talk to about anything, and help out with issues that may occur within the ROTC programme or the wider college life. DJ is a really nice guy and seemed pleased to have me as a mentee (British charm coming out there too!). I just hope he still is please to have me… And h studies in Nottingham for a year doing his Masters, so it means he understands the nature of living somewhere else away from home, and also parts of British culture which is refreshing to be able to talk about and hear about UK Uni life from an American perspective! So far we’ve met up twice – once for a nice Tai meal in Durham (I think) and then again for a drink in the Station bar in Carborro. What with now having a solid group of friends, alongside Pat and Connor, I don’t really think I need another mentor as such, but it’s still good to have someone else to turn to if needed and also to meet up with and chat about military things – something I can’t really do with non-ROTC people!

So all in all transferring to the ROTC whilst at UNC seems to have been a decent idea, and means I can continue to do something I enjoy doing, meeting other people who have the same sort of attitudes and interests as myself. I would like to say thanks to all the guys who have helped me out with the various bits of paper work and admin malarky that had to be done, and the different years who have helped me not look like a bag of shite not knowing what is going on when various things are shouted about! It would just be nice if there was a little more socialising outside of training!

I don't have any ROTC photos yet so here's one of a racoon I saw one night

1 comment:

  1. Hi, thanks for the blog it's very interesting. How did you go about transferring from the british UOTC to the US ROTC as I'm interested in doing the same thing for a year?