History of rotc introduction


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The ROTC may have turned out an adequate supply of reserve junior officers during the inter-war years, but it did not always produce lieutenants ready to take their place in the Army.  A host of troubles beset the program.  Federal budgets were tight, training resources were scarce, facilities were often inadequate, and because of the pacifist sentiment prevalent in many university communities, the environment on the college campus was not always supportive of an officer training program.  Moreover, because ROTC in this era was geared almost exclusively to the production of reserve officers, a sense of urgency and immediacy was often absent.  In many units, close order drill was the heart of the program.  Any tactical instruction that did take place tended to be overly theoretical.  Summer camp, where cadets received their most concentrated practical training, was more often than not conducted at a leisurely pace with cadets given nights and weekends off and their schedule punctuated by frequent social activities.  The result of all his was that the newly commissioned ROTC lieutenant often lacked basic military skills and knowledge, and was unfamiliar with the ethos of the military profession.

Part of ROTC's problem (which had been anticipated by the General Staff when the program was still in the planning phase) lay in its decentralized and diffuse organizational structure.  At the national level, the G-1 assigned such a low priority to ROTC that the officer appointed to this duty usually rotated to another assignment before he became familiar with his area of responsibility.  College officials who visited Washington, D.C., with the hope of discussing the ROTC program with War Department authorities, often came away disappointed because they could not identify an officer who was responsible for their particular area of concern.

The War Department held the commanders of the nine separate corps areas responsible for supervising the ROTC at the intermediate level.  Each year, corps commanders were expected to conduct summer camps and inspect every detachment within their area of responsibility.  Unfortunately, the staff element at corps headquarters that watched over the ROTC program was usually very small.  In some corps, a single officer performed this duty.  Many detachments received only superficial annual inspections while other detachments got none at all.

The chiefs of the 15 principal branches also played a part in overseeing the ROTC program at the intermediate level.  While the corps staff concerned itself with all aspects of the program, the branches focused on curriculum development and summer camp instruction.  The organizational dividing lines between the branched and corps were not always clearly delineated.  Overlap and "underlap" were both problems.

At the lowest level, the PMS&T ran day-to-day operations.  He answered to both the president of the institution to which he was assigned and the corps commander.  The PMS&T conducted hi business with an officer-to-cadet ratio that would have horrified his counterparts of a later era (roughly 1:100 in 1923 versus about 1:20 in 1990).

The organizational arrangement outlined above did not have a mechanism for upholding minimum training and commissioning standards nor did it have at its head an individual positioned to protect the program's interest in high Army councils.  What was needed, some felt, was a centralized command structure dedicated to the administration of the ROTC and capable of enforcing uniform standards on such a disparate set of institutions as those represented in the ranks of America's colleges and universities.  Col. Ralph C. Holliday, PMS&T at the Citadel in the late 1930's, thought it would be next too impossible.  At the 1937 regional ROTC conference held at Fort McPherson, Ga., he noted, "It must be remembered that senior units are not alike.  What is done at the Citadel, others cannot do.  The War Department cannot afford to undertake the straightening out of all these things.  It is not a good policy to undertake to do that which you cannot do."

In 1941, the Army Chief of Staff, Gen. George C. Marshall, tried to improve the situation through the creation of an Office of the Executive for Reserve and ROTC Affairs.  The general officer who filled this position acted as an advisor and representative for the ROTC in dealings between the Army leadership and college presidents.  An ROTC Division, headed by a colonel and comprised of six officers and two civilian clerks, monitored day-to-day operations and advised the Reserve Affairs Executive and the General Staff G-3 on all ROTC matter.  The creation of this office reflected praiseworthy intent but resulted in few concrete improvement.  The executive's lack of real command authority appeared to be the problem.

The situation of the ROTC graduates did not improve after entering the Organized Reserve Corps.  Beyond correspondence courses and rare opportunity for a 15-day active duty tour, little post-commissioning training or education of any type was available.  Nor could most reserve officers hope to hone their skills by finding positions in units outside the organize reserve.  The National Guard normally commissioned officers from its own enlisted ranks after passing them through state-run Officer Candidate Schools.  In 1935, the situation improved slightly with the passage of the Thomason Act.  This piece of legislation authorized a year of active duty for 1,000 ROTC graduates annually - 50 of whom could be awarded Regular Army commissions upon tour's end.  In the main, however, professional development beyond the pre-commissioning phase became a reality for only a handful of ROTC graduates.


The mobilization of the U.S. Army for World War II gave the ROTC its first real test.  From August 1940 to December 1941, 80,000 Organized Reserve Corps officers, the vast majority of whom were ROTC graduates, answered the call to active duty.  This group of officers formed the nucleus around which Gen. Marshall built the war-time Army.  In the midst of the war, Marshall paid tribute to these officers:

The procurement of suitable officer personnel was fortunately solved by the fact that during lean, post war years over 100,000 reserve officers had been continuously trained. These reserve officers constituted the principal available asset which we possessed at the time. Without these officers the successful rapid expansion of out Army would have been impossible.

In quantitative terms, the contribution of these reserve officers was indeed significant.  A 1944 study of five combat divisions revealed that reservists constituted 34 percent of the total officer strength - 70 percent of all captains, 82 percent of all majors, 69 percent of all company commanders, and 50 percent of all battalion commanders.

But, as Lyons and Masland pointed out, the "mere availability" of approximately 100,000 officers at the beginning of the mobilizations did not make the pre-World War II ROTC program a success.  Most ROTC graduates who did rise to positions of authority owed their accomplishments to the hard school of battlefield experience, not ROTC training.  Junior officers commissioned through the ROTC, in fact, did not prove as immediately useful to the war effort as did OCS graduates.

At the beginning of hostilities, the Army Ground Forces (AGF) staff found two principal weak pints in the ROTC program system.  First, it did not produce officers fast enough to meet demands.  Second, its product was qualitatively inferior to the OCS product.  "The three months of intensive training undergone in an officer candidate school under war conditions," an AGF memo stated, "is far superior to the full ROTC course."  Another AGF document asserted that the ROTC graduate was neither a "first class leader" nor "tactically and technically proficient."  One of the reasons for this qualitative inferiority, the authors of the document maintained, was that in the inter-war ROTC program, "theoretically training was stressed at the expense of the practical, largely because of the lack of the necessary facilities for carrying on practical instruction."  An AGF study of officer production problems at the Infantry OCS found that "leadership deficiencies were far more common" among ROTC candidates than among candidates from other sources.  The study attributed ROTC leadership defects to, among other things, the fact hat ROTC candidates "had on the whole received less practical military training than enlisted candidates" and to the fact that "ROTC men had not been screened for leadership to the same extent or on the same basis" as candidates from the enlisted ranks.  AGF misgivings led to the suspension of the ROTC advanced course from 1942 through 1945.  It was superseded by OCS programs.  Only the basic course remained in place to facilitate the post-war reactivation of the ROTC.


After the conclusion of World War II, the Army moved quickly to reestablish ROTC in its pre-war image.  Units were active on 129 campuses by September 1945.  Despite the Army's attempts to reestablish ROTC, the program languished in the immediate post-war era.  It did not approach the ambitious production goals set for it by the Department of the Army and retained, in stark contrast to the Naval ROTC program, a distinctly reserve orientation.  Congress dealt a blow to the Army ROTC in 1946 when it rejected the Universal Military Training Bill, a measure that Army policy makers had counted upon to spur enrollment.

The period between World War II and the Korean Conflict was one of demobilization, downsizing, and shrinking military budgets.  The competition for resources and personnel was fierce.  The Army ROTC, with its ties to the reserves and amorphous command structure, fared poorly in this environment.

ROTC administrators faced many obstacles in the post-ear period - obstacles which, to a greater or lesser extent, had been with the program since it first appeared on college campuses in the autumn of 1916.  One of these was instructor quality.  Army personnel managers were reluctant to assign the ablest officers to a professional backwater like ROTC duty.  The best leaders, it was felt, were needed for more critical positions (in troop units, high level staff positions, etc.).  ROTC got the leftovers.

In addition, the most fundamental management devices were often absent or inadequate.  Standard operating procedures for administration and training were practically nonexistent.  Screening and selection procedures for admission into the advanced course and for attendance at advanced camp were primitive.  Many cadets were sent to summer camp without physical examinations and found at their reception that they were medically unqualified to continue in ROTC.  The evaluation tools used to measure cadet leadership ability and officer potential were just as crude.  One officer, himself a graduate ROTC, labeled them "inadequate and unscientific" and likened them to "guess-work."  A common complaint voiced by ROTC cadre was that they were inundated by paperwork.  One observer alleged hat he administrative burden at unit level was so great that the cadre had little time left to take care of what was supposedly their major function - instruction.

Once again, many linked ROTC's ills to its fragmented and decentralized organizational structure.  At the department of the Army level, the Organization and Training Division and the Personnel and Administration Division of the Army General Staff controlled those aspects of the program which fell into their respective areas of responsibility.  The Office of the Executive for Reserve and ROTC Affairs (until 1954 when it was abolished) had various advisory, supervisory and liaison functions.  Most of the other general administrative and technical services had an "ROTC desk" which handled matters relating to their particular area of concern.  The size of this desk varied from one person, performing ROTC-related duties on a part-time basis, to several persons.  No one staff division had responsibility for the overall conduct of the program.

The same situation was reflected at the intermediate level.  In Army headquarters, duties and responsibilities were likewise parceled out among a number of staff sections.  Although each Army headquarters was organized along with same lines, the number of people devoted to ROTC-related duties in each staff section varied widely among the armies, and there was no one staff section charged with overseeing the ROTC.

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