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Reserve officers' training corps at UCA: A history

Posted: September 29, 2012 - 1:26pm

Editor’s Note: This is the first part of a two-part series

The Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) at the University of Central Arkansas (UCA) is operated within the Department of Military Science and Leadership. UCA’s ROTC unit is known as the Bayonet Battalion and students from UCA, Henderson State University, Ouachita Baptist University, Hendrix College, Arkansas Tech University and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock are eligible to participate in the program.

When ROTC was first introduced, this institution was known as State College of Arkansas (SCA). In 1968, the program was only open to students from SCA, Hendrix College and Central Baptist College. ROTC wasn’t a new concept in 1968 but something that had been in existence for quite some time. The idea of providing college students with military training actually began in 1820 at Norwich University, in Northfield, Vermont. However, the ROTC system that we now have in the United States began when President Woodrow Wilson signed the National Defense Act of 1916.

According to American Military History by the Office of the Chief of Military History, United States Army, Washington D.C., “The National Defense Act of 1916 authorized an increase in the peacetime strength of the Regular Army over a period of five years to 175,000 men and wartime strength of close to 300,000. Bolstered by federal funds and federal stipulated organization and standards of training, the National Guard was to be increased more than fourfold to a strength of over 400,000 and obligated to respond to the call of the President. The act also established both an Officers’ and an Enlisted Reserve Corps and a Volunteer Army to be raised only in time of war. Additional officers were to be trained in colleges and universities under a Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program.”

The announcement that State College of Arkansas was selected as a location for an Army ROTC unit came in the fall of 1967. According to a November 28, 1967, article in the Log Cabin Democrat, “Dr. Snow (SCA president) said the ROTC program would be housed in Meadors Hall, a three-story, 60 room men’s dormitory built in 1937. It will be converted to ROTC use next summer, with plans calling for classrooms, storage space and an inside firing range. Students leaving Meadors will be accommodated in a new dormitory building now under construction.”

The purpose of the ROTC program at SCA was described in the 1968-1969 SCA Bulletin and stated in part, “No profession is so dependent upon competent and able leadership or more concerned with leadership development than the United States Army and the other armed forces of our nation. The Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) is the primary source of our Army’s leaders and it has proved to be one of the soundest investments ever made for the defense of our nation and its freedom.” Upon graduation and successful completion of the ROTC course of study, graduates were commissioned as second lieutenants.

The ROTC program was administered by the Fourth Army Headquarters at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas. SCA’s ROTC unit was one of the first to be created in the United States since 1953 when the Army began operating under a non-expansion policy.

The first commanding officer of the newly formed ROTC program was 46-year old Lieutenant Colonel George Edward Pickett IV. Lt. Col. Pickett was a 1944 graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. During World War II, Pickett led a rifle platoon in the Philippines, was wounded in action and was awarded the Purple Heart. He also led a rifle company in the war with North Korea and served in Vietnam from 1963 to 1964 as a planning, training and operations officer at the Tan Son Nhut Air Base near Saigon. From 1956 to 1959 he was stationed in Turkey and in 1966 he served with the U.S. Army peace-keeping troops in the Dominican Republic.

Before coming to SCA, Lt. Col. Pickett was stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina where he was assigned to Headquarters, XVIII Airborne Corps. Pickett, a paratrooper, had over 100 jumps to his record, with one jump being made in combat during the Korean War. In addition to the Purple Heart, he was also awarded two Bronze Stars and the Silver Star.

Pickett was the great grandson of Confederate Major General George E. Pickett, who was made famous by the epic Civil War battle at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. On July 3, 1863, General Pickett led an attack of 15,000 Confederate soldiers against the Union center on Cemetery Ridge. Attacking in the open under withering rifle and heavy cannon fire, the attack was brutally repulsed by Union soldiers. Pickett’s men suffered greatly and his units sustained more than 50% casualties. The famous attack is known as “Pickett’s Charge.”

He was often asked if he had a special interest for U.S. Civil War history. Pickett pointed out that he had only visited the Gettysburg battlefield once, and actually preferred to read about the military exploits of Alexander the Great, Hannibal and Genghis Khan. However, he did note that the U.S. Civil War was one that was still studied at military academies and pointed to Confederate General Stonewall Jackson’s Valley Campaign as being something of interest to students of military history.

Pickett’s staff originally consisted of Captain Charles O. Pflugrath, Sergeant Major Thomas J. Bryant and Staff Sergeant Robert J. Champagne. Two additional officers were added to Pickett’s staff during the summer of 1968, Major Paul Tyler and Major Joseph M. Ditommase. Both men were Vietnam veterans and both received the Bronze Star. Colonel Pickett presented the Bronze Star to Major Tyler and Major Ditommase in the Fireplace Room of McCastlain Hall in July 1968. By 1970, Pickett’s staff had increased to nine, and included two majors, three captains and four non-commissioned officers.

Pickett arrived for duty at SCA on January 15, 1968, and the SCA Board of Trustees approved the creation of the Department of Military Science on February 1, 1968. SCA’s ROTC brigade was officially activated on October 25, 1968, in a ceremony that was held at Estes Stadium. The secretary of the Army’s civilian aide for Arkansas, Edward Smoot, was present as were representatives of the Fourth Army Headquarters at Fort Sam Houston. The main address was given by Edward Smoot and SCA President Silas Snow also spoke to the brigade. Approximately 600 cadets were sworn in that day.

Initially, the basic course in ROTC was compulsory for all male students who were freshmen or sophomores and were between the ages of 14 and 23. Male students who entered as freshmen during the spring semester were not required to take military science during that semester, but were required to enroll in military science in the fall semester and to complete the basic course. Male students also were required to complete the basic course in order to graduate, unless some type of exemption was granted.

After the basic course was completed, students could apply for the advanced course in military science. According to the 1969-1970 State College of Arkansas Bulletin, “After taking the basic course of military science, each student electing and selected for the advanced course in military science will execute a written contract with the United States Government to complete the advanced course (including ROTC Summer Camp), to accept a commission if tendered and to serve as a commissioned officer on active duty for not less than two consecutive years or (as determined by the Secretary of the Army) on “active duty training” for a period of six months. This contract must be countersigned by the parent if the student is under 21 years of age.”

Even though participation in the SCA ROTC program was compulsory for SCA male freshmen and sophomore students, it was optional for Hendrix College and Central Baptist College male students. In the fall of 1969, the president of the SCA Student Senate, Doug Greene, studied the possibility of having ROTC made non-compulsory. In October 1969, an election was held to see what the male freshmen and sophomore students thought about compulsory ROTC participation. The election had no real power and was more of an opinion poll, but it showed that 358 students wanted ROTC to be voluntary and 54 wanted it to remain compulsory.

By the fall of 1970, ROTC enrollment was no longer mandatory but was voluntary. According to the September 4, 1970 Echo, “The SCA Board of Trustees approved the voluntary plan this summer, acting on a proposal submitted by Dr. Silas D. Snow, president of SCA. Dr. Snow told the board that the voluntary program was expected to provide greater motivation for cadet enrollees and to lead, in the long run, to a ‘better program.’”

As expected, because it was no longer mandatory, ROTC enrollment fell significantly. In the fall of 1970, approximately 160 students were enrolled in ROTC. In 1969, the last fall semester that it was mandatory, 600 students were enrolled in the program.

By the spring of 1971, the enrollment in ROTC had dropped to 128 which included 56 freshmen, 30 sophomores, 31 juniors and 11 seniors. Lt. Col. Pickett attempted to spur interest in the program by sending out letters to students and to faculty members that showed the advantages of being enrolled in ROTC. Colonel Pickett was quoted by the Echo as saying, “In a society which seems to be growing more permissive, the selection of leaders not only becomes more difficult but also more important. If we cannot obtain the best from the campuses of America, where should we look for quality leadership in the quantity required for our armed services? The program is, and should continue to be, our major source of newly commissioned officers each year.”

In addition to receiving military training, those students enrolled in ROTC also took part in entertainment sponsored by ROTC. In the spring of 1969, the first formal military ball on campus was held. On March 7, 1969, a dance for ROTC members and their guests was held in the Student Center ballroom and began at 8 p.m. and lasted until midnight. The dress for cadet officers was Army green uniform with white shirts and black bow ties. The recommended attire for women was a formal evening gown or short formal. The dress for freshmen cadets was the Army green uniform. The music was provided by the 56th Army Band from Fort Polk, Louisiana.

In the winter of 1971 Lt. Col. Pickett became ill and entered Veterans Administration Hospital in Little Rock on December 30, 1971. Sadly, he passed away three months later on March 30, 1972, at the age of 51. According to the ROTC department his death was caused by intestinal blockage with complications. He was survived by his wife, Elsie Prevatte Pickett, who taught in SCA’s Department of Sociology, a daughter, Alyssa Ann, and his mother, Mrs. June Oglesby Pickett. According to The Echo, “A spokesman for the ROTC unit at SCA said the family had requested that any remembrances take the form of contributions to a medical scholarship fund to be set up in the Department of Nursing.”

Author’s Note: Sources for this article include The Echo, Log Cabin Democrat, ROTC Cadet Guide, the Scroll, material from the M99-01, UCA Official Records collection held in the UCA Archives. Next Week’s article will focus on the advancement of ROTC at UCA.

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