GUEST LETTER: UA NROTC honors Senator McCain by upholding his values
Although flags are no longer at half mast, University of Arizona’s Naval Reserve Officers' Training Corps unit continues to honor Senator and Navy Captain John McCain’s passing away on Aug. 25 by striving to emulate the values of honor, courage and commitment that the senator revered throughout his military and public service career.
Commissioned as a student naval aviator in 1958, John McCain followed a tradition of Naval service established by his grandfather Admiral John S. McCain Sr. and his father, Admiral John S. McCain Jr., serving from 1906-1945 and 1931-1972, respectively.
In several instances during his military career, John McCain exhibited a willingness to set the example when in harm’s way despite dangerous conditions. During the 1967 USS Forrestal fire, McCain extinguished the fire, burning his flight suit and then rushed to jettison soon-to-explode bombs off of the ship’s deck, helping to save the ship from further damage and loss of life. During his infamous tenure as a prisoner of war in Hanoi, North Vietnam, his heroism and that of the others, including James Stockdale, has set the standard for how Americans carry themselves when taken captive and for overcoming adversity in general.
As a statesman, John McCain demonstrated commitment to his values and courage to push for change that is respected on both sides of the political aisle. His political protégés and rivals alike did not always agree with his nonconformist stances, but yet often respected him. This includes when he opposed increased torture interrogation techniques counter to the GOP and when he was willing to work on bipartisan immigration reform. Simply put, he was bravely outspoken in what he believed would improve his country. McCain led a life of examples, defining what honor, courage and commitment look like in both military and civilian worlds.
Meanwhile, the University of Arizona’s NROTC unit continues its mission to develop young officers who seize the same values and commitments held by McCain. Honor and courage are areas of particular focus. The NROTC honor code distinguishes midshipmen in the program; at a time when universities increasingly face academic integrity violations and athletic bribery scandals, NROTC stresses the moral courage not to lie, cheat or steal. Discipline and accountability are stressed at the underclassman level in order to mold a solid foundation for success.
This, in part, is accomplished through a newly refined New Student Orientation. This year, University of Arizona’s newest midshipman candidates joined those from Arizona State University and University of New Mexico for a week of learning the moral, mental and physical skills needed to succeed as a midshipman in the US Navy.
Training in honor and courage does not end there. The program’s staff expect NROTC students to speak up and exhibit bravery to enforce the standards among each other. As criteria for the naval science minor degree earned by all graduating midshipmen, upperclassmen take courses including Naval Science 401 Leadership and Management and Naval Science 402 Leadership and Ethics. These courses are taught by active duty NROTC unit staff with decades of experience in Navy and Marine Corps service. This is done because NROTC strives to maintain a honorable and courageous standard, which distinguishes midshipmen from traditional college students.
Obtaining a Navy officer's commission requires a high level of commitment from NROTC midshipmen. In addition to a full load of regular college courses for their majors, students take an additional five credit hours dedicated to officer development. The naval science minor typically requires one academic course per semester that focuses on topics ranging from basic engineering to maritime navigation to naval history. On top of the workload required for a naval science minor, students in NROTC improve their physical fitness during NROTC unit physical training several times a week. Commitment to the program is expressed weekly as midshipmen comply with appropriate hair and clothing regulations and prepare their uniforms to wear every Wednesday.
Training may also extend outside the academic year, as midshipmen undergo a variety of summer trainings around the world with active duty surface ships, submarines, aviation squadrons and Officer Candidate School. The commitment is demanding but achievable, because midshipmen are encouraged to hold one another accountable and form cohesive support networks.
University of Arizona’s NROTC program has commissioned over 850 Naval officers since establishment in 1984. Many of these new officers have chosen to attend flight school as John McCain did in 1958. Regardless of which Naval occupation a young officer pursues, they possess confidence and a strong work ethic after adhering to the values of honor, courage and commitment during their time as midshipmen at the University of Arizona. Former President Barack Obama captured NROTC’s intent well when he asked at Senator McCain’s national memorial service, “What better way to honor John McCain’s life of service than, as best we can, follow his example?”
Disclaimer: The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense or the U.S. Navy.
Midshipman Conor Villines is part of the NRTOC on campus.