Arts & Humanities

USU's AFROTC Earns Air Force Status Upgrade Due to Booming Enrollment

Cadets Nicholar Palmer, Nathan Cutler and Weston Borup take part in the Warrior Spirit Team Building Leadership Lab last October at USU.

An upswing in the numbers of cadets joining the Air Force ROTC has caught the attention of Air Force officials, who have upgraded Utah State University’s cadet wing from a “medium” program to a “large” program.

The direct result is that the corps of cadets, which has more than doubled in size in the last decade, will get an additional faculty member, said Lt. Col. Steven Smith, professor of Aerospace Studies and commander of ROTC Detachment 860.

From a low enrollment point of 59 cadets in 2007, the four-year program this year has 127 cadets. “That’s as high as we’ve been in recorded memory,” said Smith. While a detachment is classified as medium if it has between 55 and 85 cadets, a large detachment includes 86 or more cadets, said Smith.

“Once we can demonstrate to the Air Force that we have consistently high numbers and we’re not just spiking one year, we can be reclassified,” he said.

USU has a long tradition of ROTC — Reserve Officers’ Training Corps — dating back to 1892, four years after USU’s founding. USU later earned the nickname of “West Point of the West” because it produced so many military officers.

The Air Force ROTC itself was established in 1946, a year before the official birth of the modern Air Force. Both the Army ROTC and Air Force ROTC are departments within the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, housed in the historic Military Science Building.

Smith said he believes the detachment’s growth is based on the principle that “success breeds success.”

“Cadets feel like they’re learning useful things, not just for their future careers as Air Force officers but also for life, period,” said Smith.

On the curriculum is time management, leadership, physical fitness, discipline and the importance of good grades. “When they feel that success, even if they don’t continue in the program as Air Force officers, they leave having learned something,” said Smith.

Of the 127 cadets participating this year, women make up about 15 percent, a number Smith said he hopes to increase. Some 75 are students enrolled in their first year, taking part in the regimens of early-morning physical training three times a week and leadership classes weekly.

By year three, juniors must commit to an Air Force career. Along the way, cadets can and do drop out for various reasons. “Frankly, I am grateful for and respect everyone who comes here and gives it a try,” said Smith, “even if they don’t stay with us.”

The detachment, in conjunction with the Army ROTC, is now in its second year of offering ROTC-themed dorms at USU, the only such program in the state. Capt. Timothy Shuck, an Aerospace Studies assistant professor and a USU graduate himself, worked with USU Housing and Residence Life to create a residence section that welcomes men and women ROTC participants. Shuck said the specialized housing creates a stronger social network, which is vital to camaraderie and discipline. Just as important, he said, it ensures that early-rising cadets aren’t paired with late-night frolickers.

Faculty members come from nearly every Air Force specialty — Shuck and Capt. Daniel DeVirgilio are both mechanical engineers. The same goes for cadets. Careers for the seven cadets to be commissioned this spring include space operations, security forces and pilots for both manned and remotely piloted aircraft, said Smith.

Along with his duties as wing commander, Smith, a China Regional Affairs Specialist, instructs fourth-year cadets in his academic specialties of international studies and national security strategy.

The new faculty member, an assistant professor, is expected to arrive in early summer and be ready for teaching in fall 2017. Smith said the AFROTC posts are attractive to career officers from throughout the service because instruction is “one of the ways you’ll have a major impact on the future of the Air Force,” he said.

“You have an opportunity to provide your perspective, your experience and your leadership skills to teach the next generation of Air Force leaders.”

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Contact and Writer: Janelle Hyatt, 435-797-0289,

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