The phenomenon is especially noticeable on Virginia Tech’s campus. Normally, yearly Army ROTC enrollment is about 110 to 120 students. This year, about 150 showed up to end-of-the-summer training, making it one of the largest classes the university has seen since the Vietnam War.
Col. David W. Chase, who oversees the program, was stunned. There was no clear reason for the increase, so when Chase had everyone gathered in an auditorium, he asked: Why? Why are you here?
There wasn’t just one answer: Many students have parents or relatives in the military, and some came here after not getting into a service academy. Others were enticed by the possibility of scholarship money and a job after graduation. Some were looking for leadership training that could bolster their résumés, or they wanted the structure and rigor of Virginia Tech’s Corps of Cadets.
And then there were a lot of students looking for a way to serve their country.
“ ‘Serve’ is a word that kept coming up,” said Chase, who spent more than 20 years in the Army and has been at Virginia Tech since 2010. “This generation we are getting in here is so patriotic. . . . They were 6, 7 years old on 9/11, and they have grown up during the war on terror. They’ve seen the unbelievable support for service members.”
After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the Army saw national ROTC enrollment jump from 28,470 during the 2000-01 school year to more than 30,800 two years later. But as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq waged on, the number steadily dropped to a low of 24,312 in 2005-06.
About that time, the Army increased its goal for the number of new officers and pumped more money into scholarships and recruitment. Enrollment has been steadily ticking up since, reaching a high of 36,474 the past school year.
The Army says it is now outpacing its mission after years of falling short of meeting its commission goal or barely beating it. During the 2011-12 school year, the Army commissioned 5,880 officers and reservists, surpassing its goal of 5,350. That number is expected to increase in coming years as large incoming classes mature.
Meanwhile, the number of commissions from the Navy and Marine Corps ROTC has increased, but enrollment is steadily dropping. Air Force ROTC enrollment has fluctuated, but the number of commissions has held fairly steady.