Breaking news: the big kids don’t bully

"I'm pointing to Princeton, NJ. That's where I wish I was. They probably wouldn't make fun of my V-neck." Defense Dept. photo by John Kruzel.

It seems we have future PR officers in the making.

I recently asked two of Princeton’s freshman cadets about what their experience in the battalion has been like so far: what were they expecting? What did they end up getting?

I must be  intimidating enough, because they took my “order” to heart and got back to me double-time. I needed to employ a surprisingly minimal amount of evil glares and guerrilla annoyance tactics to  summon forth their creativity.

And their insights are interesting…if a bit positive. Perhaps they’ve been conditioned; they’re always gunning for an “A.” (Get it? Gunning?)

So without further ado:

­Before arriving at the Princeton armory for the first time, I was not sure what being a member of ROTC at Princeton would be like. I was resigned and somewhat prepared for what I would refer to as the “stupidity” of the Army—older cadets making me do push-ups for minor infractions, officers chewing me out for being a minute late to some ridiculous formation, etc. I assumed I would have to put up with this in order to get the many things I wanted out of the Army, and I had already decided that sacrificing some dignity and sweat would be worth it. So I was very pleasantly surprised when I arrived at the first PT session and did not have to grovel in front of, or even salute cadets that outranked me. Since then I have been talked to disciplinarily, but only for infractions that were completely within my control to not commit.

I was also happy to learn (though not surprised this time) that I would not be required to attend PT sessions during weeks that I had wrestling practice. I walked on to the wrestling team at the beginning of the year, and handling a full load of classes, ROTC, and wrestling was something I was not sure I was ready for. But ROTC’s policy is to allow any conflicts to go to a Varsity sport if necessary. As a result, I haven’t been able to attend nearly as many ROTC leadership labs (or any PT sessions) as I would have liked to, but I feel like I’m an accepted part of the battalion regardless. I probably take more ribbing from my fellow cadets and sergeants than other guys do, but that comes with the territory.


My favorite part? “Infractions…completely within my control not to commit.” Yep, those ones, those are always bad. We miss you at PT, buddy! And cut your hair.

And round two:

I didn’t expect Princeton ROTC to be as supportive and enjoyable as it has proven to be. I expected that the relationship between first year cadets and older cadets would not be very close, perhaps even strained. I really didn’t have much knowledge about what I was committing to as part of ROTC. I had visited and learned about the military academies and had seen there the relationship between first year cadets and upperclassmen and expected to receive some sort of similar hazing. However, older cadets have proven to be nothing but a source of help and practical advice with tips on everything from how to lace up my boots to the best way to execute a pushup. Despite the minor inconveniences and limitations placed on my sleep and study habits by having to get up early in the mornings for PT, schedule MS class and participate in ROTC labs, I feel that ROTC has helped give my life structure here by forcing me to stay on top of assignments and keep my schedule well organized. I have really enjoyed my time in ROTC and the training and educational opportunities that I have been able to engage in through the program. For example, this fall I was given the opportunity to go to the Holocaust Museum and on a guided tour of the Pentagon on a trip that was both entertaining and highly informative. I look forward to the rest of my years in ROTC and my time in the army.


Alright, it’s official. Let’s get some logos, some camo and some stock photos with diverse-looking models. We can start printing the ‘ol pamphlets.


I bless the rains down in Africa

How cool is it that I get to go to Tanzania for a month this summer? I’ll tell you. Very Cool. (Side note: Google tells me that “cool” in Swahili is “cool,” which is awesome and also probably wrong, considering the kind of cool I meant. “Awesome” is “kutisha.”)

I’ll explain. In the past couple of years, Cadet Command has seriously expanded a program called the Culture and Language Deployment (CULP). Basically, you say what area of the world you want to go and whether you’d prefer working with a non-profit or checking out another country’s military. And then you get sent there. For free.

Well, you know, it’s almost free. If something is on the army’s dime, it’s going to come with a lot of paperwork, and maybe a little bit of miscommunication thrown in for funsies.

Take for example the fact that I was originally put down for a trip to El Salvador (pretty Kutisha as well) but I would have had to jet off in the middle of my 2nd semester finals. One can dream, of course, but the dean don’t like those kinds of dreams. He’s got a machine that sucks those dreams away. Like a dream dyson.

Anyhow, the cadre thankfully got that sorted out, and so I’m going to be volunteering in Moshi, Tanzania, along with a bunch of other khaki-and-polo-clad cadets from throughout the country.

I’m sure I’m going to write about this later, so for now I’ll just share a few details from some of the pre-deployment tasks we’ve had to do (a bunch of other Princeton kids are doing CULPs as well).

From the convenience of my laptop, I learned about Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE). Some of the information was not surprising. For example, when you hole up to get your evading on, use dirt to cover that oily, ugly face of yours, and use tree branches to break up the distinctly human outline of your person. Of course. Makes sense. If you need to build rapport with your captor, chat with him about football and his family. Sure. Yeah. Absolutely.

Some of the other information was completely new to me. Did you know that you can eat worms raw if you let them soak in potable water for 15 minutes? They purify themselves. MMM, DELICIOUS. Actually I shouldn’t joke. Princeton has a bug-eating club. And you thought we were just nerdy-weird!

It's called protein, and you need it

We also had to take a basic level anti-terrorism course, which I found extremely interesting. Pro tip: if you have to book a hotel room, pick one that does not have a shared bathroom and don’t get one too close to an exit (makes it easy for them to get away!).

Thanks also to this course, I stumbled upon what can only be the DoD’s euphemistic definition of “seduction.” Here goes:

“Operatives may use members of the opposite sex to gain access to facilities and collect information”

So steamy. I can’t take it.

Black gawk down

Seven or so pairs of eyes just turned, at once, to look at me.  It’s Tuesday morning, and I am sitting at the table in my military science classroom, my hand cradling a pen for the notes that I never end up taking.

You know, usually when this happens, it is because I have said something incredibly witty and insightful, often both.

Laughter, respect, awe–I see it all in those eyes.  I dare say that sometimes I even see tears, little salty proofs of the powerful emotional response that my comment has elicited in my audience.  (Yes, my classmates might still be a little bleary and bloodshot at oh-dark-thirty in the morning but my explanation makes sense, too)

This time, however, I saw shock.  Confusion.  Outrage, even.  They all looked at me as if the nametape on my chest now read “MARTIAN” instead of “MARTINS.”  I twisted uncomfortably in my boots.

“You’ve never seen ‘Black Hawk Down?””


“I don’t believe it.”

We were going to watch a clip of the movie, and before the “play” button had even been pressed, I was alone in the middle of a firestorm.

Black Hawk Down

He's mad at me.

They all seemed to have seen it.  I found out that for some of my classmates, “Black Hawk Down” is a favorite film, one they have seen multiple times, can actually quote from, on demand.  They were surprised that I hadn’t seen it before, not just because I am contracted in ROTC but because I grew up in an army family.

And most of them also seemed to think it crucial that I fix this problem as soon as possible.

I blinked, feeling like I should apologize.  But I didn’t understand.  When had cinematic preferences become an indication of preparedness?  Of dedication?  What does having parents in the army have to do with my taste in movies?

I mean, if this film is actually part of the ROTC curriculum, I am obviously missing something.

And it’s not just “Black Hawk Down.”  I can’t say that I have seen very many war movies at all.  I certainly can’t think of any very modern ones, either based on recent conflicts or produced within the last ten years.

Here’s the best list I can come up with.  Let the embarrassment begin:

  1. “Saving Private Ryan,” 1998 (rated “R” but I watched it in 3rd grade, go me!)
  2. “The Longest Day,” 1962
  3. “Stalag 17,” 1953 (very funny dialogue, considering the sad POW storyline)
  4. “The Thin Red Line,” 1998 (meh.  I watched it to get extra credit for my history class in 8th grade)
  5. “Tora! Tora! Tora!,” 1970  (I swear, the Japanese has to be fake…)
  6. “Dr. Strangelove,” 1964 (there is no way this counts, but I love it)

All this list does for me is prove I’m a nerd.  Like really nerdy.  I mean, most of these are like, you know, the classics.  They’re not only old, but I watched them ages ago, so I have trouble remembering their details.  And even if I could, they simply do not depict a modern army with current issues.

Getting over the immediate insecurity I feel about admitting my lack of experience with war movies, I am trying to come to grips with what this means.

For one thing, I am not naturally drawn to these kinds of films.  I don’t for a second think that this indicates I am somehow less invested or passionate about being in the army.  No, it indicates that I simply prefer to spend my time and money differently.  As a side note, I would say action movies in general, not just war movies, are usually not my cups of tea.  Go ahead and call it a girl thing, but don’t call it a bad thing.

This is not to say I don’t think war movies are important.  There is a reason that helmets and fighter planes have graced the screen since the invention of motion picture; certainly the themes of war are universal, not to mention unavoidably heart-wrenching and complex.

But there is more.  The modern war movie is educational, in a way that I don’t think war movies have ever been before.  It seems to me that a whole generation of young soldiers has grown up watching them and in turn has used them to form ideas about the military.

For them, this information provides both a level of detail (seeing certain equipment in action, for example–something I think video games have also supplemented) and a more broad scope.  Perhaps watching these movies, often based on true stories and depicting great heroism, actually inspired them, at least a little, in their decision to join up.

I am not sure what the broader implications of this may be.  But I realize now that there really is a whole cache of shared knowledge and vocabulary that I do not have access to right now because I have not seen these films.  Certainly the soldiers I hope to lead as a Lieutenant will have seen them, will have opinions about them, will be influenced by them.

So I have decided that while I have time in the summer, I will do a little studying and catch up.  Don’t laugh; it could get tough, having to sit there on the couch watching movies.  Real hard work, you know.

I’m thinking:

  1. “Black Hawk Down,” naturally
  2. “The Hurt Locker”
  3. “Stop-Loss”
  4. “Jarhead”
  5. “Behind Enemy Lines”
  6. “Green Zone”
  7. “Restrepo” (Documentary, so not the same, but looks interesting)

Anything I should add?  Let me know.

I’d better head over to Blockbuster, I might be able to prevent it from going out of business.

Up in the air

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So I haven’t posted for a long time and so much stuff happened.  It’s funny how that works.  Here is my excuse–work blah blah blah end of the year etc etc.

Anyway, I have decided to make up for my negligent behavior and simultaneously take a break from my less-entertaining-to-write term papers by providing a highlights reel of the past few weeks.  Prepare yourself.

The last two labs of the year. Also known as the MS 1 and 2 FTX, which means that these labs were planned and executed by this year’s MS 3s, and everyone got to prepare for more leadership/responsibility coming next year.  There was a big ol’ lane each day, but also something sort of special afterwards–pugil sticks and then combatives.

Hooah moment:  We took over Whitman hill, created a ring of rucksacks, and ta-da, there was  spectacle!  The curious, meandering prefrosh who were touring the campus that weekend were probably wondering what was going on with what our BC later called “giant Q-tips.”

The dining-out/awards ceremony. Parents were invited this year, and my mom came up for it.  She utterly failed to come up with suitably embarrassing childhood anecdotes about me when prompted, besides hinting that I may have not acquired a voice befitting a proper military bearing until very late.  There were really quite a lot of awards–my date, fatigued, eventually succumbed to a hand-to-knee method of applause.

Hooah moment:  I talked for a solid ten minutes about “Avatar” (a film I haven’t actually seen) with Janet Dickerson, the Vice President of Princeton University (!!!), and her husband, who both came out to support us.  The short answer?  They liked Avatar.  And they were both quite hilarious.

The final APFT.  Oooof.

UH-60 Flight

UH-60 (Black Hawk) Flight. It sucks that I don’t have a better picture to offer than this extremely…grounded shot.  All of our cell phones kind of seemed to die at the same time.  Some pictures might surface later, though now that I think about it, pictures might not be a great thing for my ego.  You see, I jumped at the chance to sit in the “hurricane seat,” meaning that because the doors were open, I got hit with the majority of the wind–and probably looked like this the whole time.

Hooah moment: Um, duh, the whole thing.  We flew over NEW YORK CITY.  In a HELICOPTER.  You know, no big deal.  Thank you, NJ National Guard.

The senior roast. I’m not going to say much about this tradition because that would spoil it.  But I will note that it was a good time, and quite fun to see the MS 4s–soon to be LTs–taken down a few notches.

Now, free for the summer!  Oh wait–what’s that?  25 more pages?  Back to work, I guess.

additional photos by Myers