Princeton marks 100 years of ROTC on campus during Veterans Day program

Tuesday, Nov 12, 2019
by Emily Aronson, Office of Communications

Princeton University marked the 100th anniversary of ROTC during Veterans Day on Nov. 11. Nearly 200 alumni, students, faculty, staff and guests, including distinguished officers from five military branches, spent the day on campus to commemorate Princeton’s century-long Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) program.

ROTC prepares students at colleges and universities across the country to become officers in the U.S. military. Princeton currently offers Army, Navy and Air Force ROTC programs. 

“Princeton’s ROTC programs have trained generations of leaders who have served this country, and who continue to serve this country, with courage, wisdom and integrity, exemplifying the University’s commitment to be ‘in the nation’s service and the service of humanity,’” Princeton President Christopher L. Eisgruber said. 

In 1919 following World War I, the U.S. Army established 125 ROTC units, including one at Princeton. The Army ROTC Tiger Battalion has operated at the University since then. 

“ROTC training, and the education of military leaders more broadly, are profoundly valuable parts of Princeton’s academic and public service missions,” Eisgruber told ROTC alumni and students seated around tables in the Frick Chemistry Laboratory Atrium. “Princeton’s ROTC programs have embodied … ideals of citizenship and service throughout the last century, and those ideals live vibrantly in the collected experience of you who gather in this room tonight.”

Eisgruber, who helped re-establish Princeton’s Navy ROTC program in 2014, noted a resurged interest in ROTC at Princeton. There are also more veteran students on campus today, many of whom were admitted through the University’s reinstated transfer program for undergraduates.

According to Eisgruber, between 25 to 30 Princeton students were enrolled in ROTC six years ago. This fall, there are 67 ROTC students, including 47 with the Army, 13 with the Navy and 7 with the Air Force. Some of these students shared why they serve in a video that premiered at the anniversary celebration. 

“Choosing to serve and having this commitment after school was a big choice, but it was one that I was grateful to take on. That sacrifice is something I’m extremely proud of,” said senior Kasey Bersh, Army ROTC. 

“Everyone is here for a common purpose,” said first-year Bradley Rindos, Air Force ROTC. “The shared goal of protecting the country. It doesn’t matter where you come from or what major you are studying. At the end of the day, you all have that common thread that is ‘in the nation’s service and the service of humanity.’”

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, a 1980 alumnus who began his military career through Princeton ROTC, also sent his regards via video message

“Congratulations to the entire University team on a century of Princeton in the nation’s service,” Milley said. “Over the years, this program helped close the gap between Americans serving in uniform and the people we defend, serving as a vehicle of social mobility and advanced education.”  

The day-long centennial celebration also featured the annual Veterans Day service in the University Chapel, tours of campus, and a panel discussion on “Deterrence in the Age of Vulnerability” with undergraduate and graduate alumni. Guests had flown to Princeton from all over the country and the world to attend. 

Lt. Gen. Christopher Cavoli, a Class of 1987 alumnus and commander of the U.S. Army Europe, gave the keynote address at the closing dinner in Frick Atrium. 

“It is my great privilege to serve not only this country, but to serve this country as a representative of Princeton University,” Cavoli said.

He commended ROTC students past and present for exemplifying Princeton’s commitment to service in its many forms. 

“Our country deserves the service of the young men and women who attend an institution as respected and as quality as this one,” Cavoli said. “Not everybody chooses to fulfill that service, but the folks in this room tonight do. … The folks in this room tonight understand that Princeton is in the nation’s service in so many ways, but also in the military. Princetonians shed their blood for this country, Princetonians dedicate their honor for this country, Princetonians dedicate their spirits for this country.”

Cavoli recognized a few of these Princetonians in the audience, including Victor Prato, a Class of 2015 alumnus who received the Purple Heart after suffering a severe spinal cord injury while serving in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in 2017.  

Princetonians who gave the ultimate sacrifice were also honored, with a small empty table set for fallen heroes placed in the middle of the atrium. 

The evening concluded with a presentation of the ROTC Alumni Service Award for retired Col. Douglas Lovejoy, who previously worked at the University in leadership gifts. 

Deputy Dean of the College Elizabeth Colagiuri, an ROTC staff fellow and former member of Naval ROTC, served as master of ceremonies, and the Rev. Theresa Thames, associate dean of religious life and the chapel, gave the invocation during the commemorative dinner. 

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