The Pitt News

Students soldier on to future

Caitlyn Gibbs starts training 5:45 a.m. three mornings a week. Training activities include crossfit, running and weight training. (Photo by Wenhao Wu | Assistant Visual Editor)

Caitlyn Gibbs starts training 5:45 a.m. three mornings a week. Training activities include crossfit, running and weight training. (Photo by Wenhao Wu | Assistant Visual Editor)

Caitlyn Gibbs starts training 5:45 a.m. three mornings a week. Training activities include crossfit, running and weight training. (Photo by Wenhao Wu | Assistant Visual Editor)

By Jesse Madden | For The Pitt News

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Caitlyn Gibbs’ schedule requires her to be at Bellefield Hall at 5:45 a.m. three days per week, where attendance is taken. Then she and 150 other Pitt students head over to the Cathedral lawn for running and weight-training activities until 7 a.m.

No, she’s not just a fitness freak. She’s preparing for a career in military intelligence.

Gibbs, a sophomore Spanish and Russian dual major, is currently taking 18 credits and serving as the resident assistant for Pitt’s Reserve Officer Training Corps Living Learning Community in Tower C. She said better time management is one of the most valuable things she’s picked up as a cadet in Pitt’s ROTC program.

“It’s kind of a culture shock if you weren’t used to waking up at five and working out all the time,” she said. “But you adjust, and you find the time to do things.”

Pitt became one of the first universities, in 1918, to offer a ROTC program — a college-based officer training program preparing students to serve in the U.S. forces after they graduate. The Panther Battalion expanded and changed as the years went on, eventually growing beyond Pitt and merging with other ROTC programs at Robert Morris University and Duquesne University to become the Three Rivers Battalion in 2008.

Gibbs was inspired to join because her parents are both defense contractors, people who provide services to the military. She aspires to go into military intelligence after graduation and relay information between units. Because she is going into such a time-consuming field, she had to rework her sleep schedule.

“I definitely am one of the people that takes naps,” she said. “You stay up late, you get all your work done, then you take a nap. You budget that sort of thing to be productive.”

Retired Marine Corps Officer Christopher Boissonnault — the scholarship and enrollment officer for the Battalion — is responsible for recruiting students for the battalion who often come to work and socialize in Bellefield Hall.

“Out of 275 programs, we’re the only program in the U.S. that has everything in one building,” he said. “Cadet lounge, computer printers, basketball court, gym, fitness room, swimming pool, everything.”

Applicants to the Three Rivers Battalion must be U.S. citizens and have a high school GPA of 2.5 or higher. Incoming first-years have to be able to pass the Presidential Physical Fitness Test, while current students need to pass the Army Physical Test in order to keep their scholarships. ROTC students all start off at the rank of cadet and have the opportunity to move up the chain of command to that of colonel in a campus organization.

Battalion students are also eligible for scholarships through ROTC. They are awarded based on merit and grades, not financial need, and include two-, three- and four-year scholarship options, with some including food, housing and textbooks.

Zach Horn, a senior political science major, is currently attending Pitt on a full ROTC scholarship and serves as a battalion commander in Three Rivers Battalion. He will be commissioned to the entry-level rank of second lieutenant after he graduates next year. He anticipates becoming a platoon leader, where he’ll work alongside a platoon sergeant to command roughly 40 individuals.

“There’s a weird balancing act because I’m going to be around 24, and I’ll be working with somebody who’s had 10 years experience in the Army,” he said.

Army ROTC students who apply for and receive a scholarship or who enter the Army ROTC Advanced Course are required to complete a period of service with the U.S. Army after they graduate. Those who do so may serve full-time in the Army or part-time in the National Guard or Army Reserve. Students who only complete the ROTC Basic Course are not required to serve.

Horn was inspired to join ROTC because his father is in the National Guard and loves his work. Horn felt that leadership and discipline are the most valuable traits he’s gaining through the program.

“Is everybody else getting up at five every morning?” he said. “You’re accountable for being [in the program], so if you don’t show up, that’s on you.”

Horn hopes to serve active duty in the engineering branch, one of 17 branches — including aviation, infantry and medical services — cadets can be placed into. He doesn’t find out where he’s placed until December, the same time he’ll also find out his duty location.

According to Horn, cadets choose their top three branches as well as desired locations to be stationed. They then get ranked alongside 5,000 other cadets through an algorithm that takes into account how well they did in ROTC, school and extracurricular activities.

“You get calculated. You get put in your spot. So I really don’t have so much say in what I’m doing yet,” he said.

In the meantime, the ROTC program holds social events for cadets, including a traditional military ball each semester and staff rides to battlefields. Boissonnault says that the program also engages in community activities such as outreach programs with local elementary schools.

“I’ve met a lot of good friends through here,” Horn said. “I’ll tell you now, some of these people will be at my wedding whenever I get married.”

Cadets commit a lot of time to the program, but in the hard work they find ways to build their camaraderie.

“You get really close doing all the stuff together. Especially when it’s hard,” Gibbs said. “You bond through the struggle of it all.”

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Students soldier on to future