Stress and Sleep Deprivation are Common Among Army ROTC Cadets
Fordham University’s Army ROTC program produces the future leaders of America and the world, and Fordham’s program consistently ranks among the top Army ROTC programs in the nation in terms of active duty selectment and other competitive factors. However, due to the nature and demands of Army ROTC, many cadets including myself find themselves heavily sleep deprived and constantly stressed out.
In addition to normal courses at Fordham University cadets have to take a leadership lab course and a military science course on Wednesdays. Depending on MS class (military science class, MS1 is freshman, MS2 is sophomore, etc.) you are in, your leadership lab and might not count for any college credit, but it is still mandatory in order to remain enrolled in the program. For example, during MS1 year your military science class and leadership lab do not count for any credits despite the lab and class taking anywhere from 3-7 hours each Wednesday. In addition to the leadership lab cadets have to attend three PT (physical training) sessions in the morning which depending on the activity can last anywhere from 1-4 hours in the morning. Company runs, combat PT, and circuit workouts only take one hour, but ruck marches (which range from 6-12 miles) can take anywhere from 2-4 hours. This causes most cadets to lose sleep because they have to wake up anywhere from 3:00 to 6:00 in the morning in order to make it to PT first formation time. Cadets also take time out of their day for other ROTC activities such as color guard and gear details. One of the most strenuous activities in Army ROTC are the field training exercises (FTX), in the FTX cadets practice small unit tactics in an Army installation (usually Ft. Dix, NJ or West Point, NY.) During the FTX cadets will get less than four hours of sleep a night for three to four days and be expected to lead each other in mock combat operations. Many cadets seem to be depressed due to the high physical and mental demand of ROTC combined with sleep deprivation.
The stress levels of cadets vary by MS class. MS1 cadets are new to the program and are generally more stressed out than MS2s despite having less responsibilities due to the learning curve of various ROTC activities. However, the MS3 class is by far the most stressed out. MS3s assume most of the day to day leadership of activities, and are constantly preparing for the culminating moment of their ROTC education: Advanced Camp. Advanced Camp tests the leadership ability of cadets through a 31-day summer course including a 12 day FTX. Advanced camp plays a crucial role in whether or not a cadet gets their service component (active duty, reserve, national guard) and branch (your job/role in the army) when they commision as an officer after they graduate from college. MS3s are graded on their leadership ability by cadre members and MS4 cadets on their leadership and organizational ability more often than cadets of other classes. Some MS3 cadets I have spoken to have told me that they have multiple sleepless nights each week.
Other reasons cadets are stressed out involve the bureaucratic nature of the US Army. For example myself and other cadets have been offered full tuition scholarships, monthly pay, and other benefits by the Army, but are unable to activate our benefits due to reasons out of our control. I won a 4-year tuition scholarship, but I am unable to activate it due to my medical history. In order to rectify this issue I have to keep submitting medical paperwork and wait month after month until the Army makes a decision. During this time I participate in all ROTC activities, but I’m not paid a cadet stipend and I receive no scholarship money. Other cadets who have successfully navigated the Army’s medical processing still struggle to collect their scholarship and stipend money. These cadets often complain about being paid late and have to submit a plethora of paperwork in order to receive their benefits. The wheels of bureaucracy turn slowly, and the United States Army is the world’s largest bureaucracy; therefore it’s no shock that such problems are pervasive within Army ROTC.
Although stress and sleep deprivation are not ideal for the mental health of anybody, the career of an Army Officer is full of demanding challenges, and Army ROTC is designed to prepare the future generation of Army Officers. The Army does not want leadership that can not adapt to stressful situations. Although certain improvements can be made such as developing a more efficient bureaucracy and prioritizing efficiency of communication within the Army, many of the hurdles faced by Army ROTC cadets will develop them into leaders that can effectively lead America’s sons and daughters in stressful combat situations.