Wednesday, October 3, 2012

An Aggie Of A Different Uniform

Immediately down the hall from our old Hickey Gym offices were the university's military science and ROTC departments. They were close in proximity: their main classroom was next door to our old Room 120 suite. It served as a meeting room for our offensive line and a media room for our football games during the Toomey Field era. Plus, the smell of good coffee often wafted into our offices from theirs.

Everyday when I arrived at work, I would see the insignia on the door, the "Forged Gold" above the entrance, the U.S. Army posters on the halls next to our own doorway. In roaming the halls, I would occasionally cross paths with an Aggie of a different kind of uniform -- instead of Yale Blue, they wore OD Green.

But until today, I never knew much about our old neighbors.
When sophomore lacrosse player Colleen McGee emailed me to let me know she was being sworn in as a cadet in the ROTC program, I grabbed my camera and headed to that familiar corridor in Hickey Gym.  Always eager to feature my student-athletes in their efforts outside of the classroom,I figured I could grab some stills and video and put something together.

(I am still assembling the video so I'll try not to spoil the plot.)

I actually got there too late to see Colleen sworn in. Not a problem. The new commander and military science professor, Lt. Colonel Patrick Rose, pulled me into the aforementioned classroom, had his staff hold up the broad stripes and bright stars of Old Glory, and recreated the moment for my camera:

The commander's hospitality was both comforting, as the abundance of camouflage can intimidate even a familiar Hickey Gym visitor such as myself; and a sign of his vision for his program.

It's worth noting here that McGee is hardly the first student-athlete to take part in the UC Davis ROTC. Wrestlers Brandon Bear and Derek Moore, the latter of whom is best known for winning the university's only NCAA Division I title to date, were cadets in the program. McGee isn't even the first lacrosse player. All-MPSF defender Jen Sanderson (now Wilson) balanced her ROTC obligations with the rigors of athletics before entering the Army's Medical Service Corps.

However, McGee could be the first of many more. Rose, I soon learned, not only welcomes student-athletes into the UC Davis ROTC program, he has made it a priority. Major Matt Paige, the recruiting operations officer and an interview subject in my upcoming video, was very quick to commend his boss' efforts to that end. (Paige's son is a former semipro hockey player, so needless to say Dad holds a place in his heart for those who commit themselves to sports.)

At first glance, the fit seems obvious: a Division I athlete will immediately be better trained than most students when handling the physical demands of the armed services. An athlete will bear the mindset of forgoing individual goals for the benefit of a team.

On the other hand, student-athletes already face the challenges of time management, having to juggle their academic and athletic pursuits. ROTC would create an added load, especially in the junior and senior years. Again, this is a place where Rose stands as a key figure: he has shown a willingness to accommodate student-athletes as they balance their duties to the two programs.

From the departmental side, it makes fiscal sense to encourage student-athletes -- both current and prosective -- to consider the ROTC program. The Army ROTC offers its own merit-based scholarships that could supplement an athletics grant-in-aid. In other words, a student-athlete could receive a "partial" athletics grant-in-aid that covers tuition and fees, plus an ROTC scholarship that pays for room and board. From the student's point of view, he/she is getting a full ride. To the athletics department, the athlete comes at only a portion the cost.

No, despite Paige's intriguing sales pitch, the university's ROTC program wouldn't be for everyone and it certainly wouldn't be suitable for all student-athletes, who have enough on their plate as it is. But an officer in the U.S. armed forces is a special breed, and one thing I've learned from two decades around here is that Aggie athletes, by and large, stand a cut above the rest.

ROTC and ICA have shared a building for decades. (In fact, Rose says his Hickey Gym locker sits between that of football coach Bob Biggs and physical education director Jeff Weidner.) It's refreshing to see that the two departments can again share the common goal of furthering opportunities for student-athletes.

Anyway, back to work... I've got a video to make.

-Mark Honbo, assistant director for athletics communication, serves as the primary contact for women's lacrosse.