ISU NROTC Class of 2019 break ground at New Student Orientation

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The following story was submitted by ISU’s NROTC unit.

While most freshmen were moving into the dorms at Iowa State University to start the new year, new Naval ROTC students were settling in, too – Navy- and Marine Corps-style.

During the week they completed New Student Orientation to learn the ropes of NROTC in Ames, Iowa.

“It’s no longer all about you,” Commanding Officer Captain Ricks W. Polk, USN, said. “When you join the Navy or Marine Corps, you’re committing to service above self.”

Captain Polk stressed that orientation week was not boot camp, nor one of the service academies. There were no screaming Drill Instructors, but students would be challenged in plenty of other ways.

Their first big challenge was the PFA (Physical Fitness Assessment for the Navy) and the PFT (Physical Fitness Test for the Marines). In this test, the Navy Options were tested on their abilities at curl-ups, push-ups, and a 1.5-mile run, while the Marine Options completed pull-ups, curl-ups, and a 3-mile run.

“The PFA turned out to be harder than I expected, but it was also a great motivator for me to improve my fitness and get better at it,” said Midshipman Zach Moolenaar.

Later in the week students were tested in a different physical area with swim qualifications. If you’re going to be joining the Navy, it should be expected that you will get in the water at some point, and it is no different here in landlocked Iowa. The students were tested on their ability to swim using four different strokes, use a uniform item as an improvised personal flotation device, and execute abandon ship procedures by jumping off a 10-meter platform.

Despite the time spent on physical fitness, NROTC places the heaviest emphasis on academics. The mission here is to get good grades and commission as officers, which is especially important for “college program” students competing for a Navy or Marine Corps scholarship. The class of 2019 is the largest freshman class in six years for Iowa State NROTC – with 22 of 31 freshmen participating in the college program, competition for scholarships is keen.

On Wednesday, students travelled south to the National Guard Base at Camp Dodge to demonstrate leadership and teambuilding on the Leadership Reaction Course (LRC). This course consists of several open air rooms littered with obstacles, each room presented a different objective that each team of midshipmen had to plan, organize and work to complete.

“The LRC was the best part of the week for me,” said freshman George Peterson. “I was expecting it to be a normal obstacle course, but it was really all about problem solving, team building, and leading that team. It did a great job of opening dialogue between us.”

In the military, it is important to balance family life alongside a military career, so the students were treated to a barbecue with their families to reinforce this tenant. Many of the midshipmen have family members that served in the military themselves.

McKinley Spading’s father Rob Spading served eight years enlisted in the Navy and comes from a family with a long military history. “I love what I’ve seen of the unit so far. I was impressed with how upbeat and positive all my interactions with the staff were. The CO also made an effort to talk to every one of the parents before we dropped off our son.”

The final challenge for the new midshipmen came on Thursday, when they headed to the firing range to conduct weapons familiarization. This is the first time in many years that midshipmen have received firearms training. The support provided by a new local facility and alumni funding allowed the staff to incorporate this element. It is generally expected that men and women joining the military will be taught how to handle a weapon, so showing these new students how to do this right at the start was an exciting opportunity for all.

Even though some of the students had not fired a weapon before, by the end of the day they the opportunity to shoot the AR-15 rifle and were well-versed in the four laws of weapon safety:

1. Treat every weapon as if it were loaded. 
2. Never point your weapon at anything you do not intend to shoot. 
3. Keep your finger straight and off the trigger until you are ready to fire. 
4. Keep the weapon on safe until you intend to fire.

The lessons learned this week marked the beginning of a four-year transformation process for these freshmen. They began to form a team. Their efforts prepared them well journey and shape the future of Iowa State NROTC newest midshipmen.

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NEWS RELEASE College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Iowa State University

Contact: LT Joshua A. Riley, Adjunct Instructor, Naval Science, (515) 294-0328, (